The smoke from the Rio 2016 Opening Ceremony has settled, and the games of the 31st Olympiad have officially begun. And, for the 27th time Omega has been entrusted as the official timekeeper, making sure that records are made and broken with the utmost accuracy.
Things have changed since Los Angeles in 1932. This marked the first time Omega served as official timekeeper – indeed the first time a single company was responsible for timing all events. The key timing instrument was the split-seconds chronograph, accurate to fifths and tenths of a second. Omega brought with it fewer than 30 such chronographs.
At this point we’ll pass the baton to Petros Protopapas, Omega’s International Heritage Manager, who told us this story at the Night of Omega Firsts.
Fast forward to 2016 and both the scope and scale of Omega’s timekeeping has expanded a little, to put it mildly. Rio will see Omega shipping in a whopping 450 tons of equipment, including 200km of cables and fibre optics, 335 sport-specific scoreboards and 79 public scoreboards. Looking after all this gear are 480 professionals and 850 volunteers.
The technology has come a long way from mechanical split-seconds chronographs, too. The key tools in Omega’s arsenal are the starting pistol, which is now a fully integrated electronic system incorporating sound, a light flash and a timing impulse. Things get even more complex with the guns for the 100m sprint, with systems in place to detect false starts. The second key instrument is the Scan’O’Vision MYRIA photo finish camera, which is being used for the first time this year. This kit – part chronograph, part time detector – can take up to 10,000 images a second, making it perfect for the closest of photo finishes.
The final instrument is photoelectric timing, which dates back to 1948. It’s fundamentally the same system – when an athlete breaks the infrared beam, timing systems can give a finish time accurate to 1/1000th of a second.
Amidst all the lasers and digital technology that constitute timekeeping at the modern Olympics there’s still solace for the traditionalists – the 21 Omega last-lap bells, used in cycling and track events are still handmade in La Chaux-de-Fonds.