The ABCs of Olympic Timing

August 5, 2021 By mysun08481 Off

In sports, timing and accuracy are everything. Whether it’s knowing which swimmer’s hand hit the wall first or whether a world-class sprinter jumped the gun, fair timing, scoring, and recordkeeping at the Olympics are serious business.

Athletes wait for four years between Olympiads (actually a bit longer in our current cycle): An accurate accounting of results is the least they deserve. Below, we single out some milestones, facts, and figures of Olympic timing, and also mention a cool Olympic-themed watch or two.

Aqua Terra: As Danny Milton wrote in his introduction to the Seamaster Aqua Terra Tokyo 2020, Replica Omega saved the shiniest for last after releasing a considerable output of commemorative watches for Tokyo 2020. The solid gold watch comes in a 38mm and 41mm version with a blue leather strap and features a striking blue dial, playing off the Tokyo 2020 emblem.
Bulova: In 1988, Bulova piggybacked on the Winter Olympics with a very intentionally time-sensitive advertising campaign. Bulova had a history of using photos from Time Magazine in its ads, and the two whipped up something special for the Alberta Olympics. According to The New York Times, the brand selected a photo by a Time Magazine photographer and turned it into an ad by deadline to be included in that week’s edition. Bulova Watch time, indeed!

Chronographs were used at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles when Omega supplied pocket watches that could tell time in addition to functioning as stopwatches during the events.

Digital Display Clocks: For those following along at home.

Equipment: Olympic timing equipment is no easy lift. According to The New Yorker, the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang required two hundred and thirty tons of timing equipment. That’s 115 small elephants – now that’s an opening ceremony we would like to see.

False-start fail-safes: You train for years, you finally make it to the pinnacle of your sport, it’s the moment you’ve waited for – is it any surprise some athletes “jump the gun?” According to The Atlantic, false start technology ensures that athletes take at least 0.110 of a second to respond based on the time it takes the sound of the starting gun to reach human ears. Even the Greeks had a false-start prevention system, and we’ve been innovating ever since.

Girard-Perregaux Olimpico: In 2011, we wrote about the Olimpico. To commemorate the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, the first hosted by either a developing nation or a Spanish-speaking country, the distributor for Girard-Perregaux suggested the great manufacture produce a chronograph in the Olympic theme – thus, the Olimpico was born.

Heuer: Although Omega is best-known as the official Olympic timekeeper, Heuer timed three of the early games with their “Mikrograph,” including Antwerp in 1920, Paris in 1924, and Amsterdam in 1928.

Innovation: When Danny Milton caught up with Omega’s CEO of Timing, Alain Zobrist, asked him about the greatest innovation in Olympic timekeeping: “To me, the greatest innovation was actually the pocket watch, back in 1932. At that time, it was considered to be the most accurate chronograph on the planet. And Omega was the only company who was able to provide 30 of them for the Games and that laid the groundwork for the partnership Replica Omega has with the IOC to this day, and until 2032, actually. So to me, that was the greatest innovation. Nowadays, of course, we have all of these motion sensors and positioning systems, but we tend to forget a little bit about how great this was – the chronograph, back in the 1930s.”

Jo, as in Flo: As Nora Taylor wrote recently, Florence Griffith-Joyner’s running times and her style were unmatched. When she won gold for the 100 meter at the 1988 Seoul Olympics she sported a Casio SDB-300 on the podium.
Killy (Jean-Claude): The famed French alpine skier won three gold medals when his home country hosted the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble. Killy, who has appeared in numerous Rolex advertisements, won the downhill, the giant slalom, and the slalom. Though his name isn’t associated with Olympic timing per se, it is forever linked to some highly collectible Rolex calendar chronograph watches.

Louis, Spyridon: The winner of the marathon at the first modern Olympics, held in Athen in 1896, where he competed for the host country, Greece.

Magic Eye: The 1948 Games in London saw the introduction of the photo-finish camera to Olympic timing. The Magic Eye, as it was known, gave results on film, which had to be developed in order for them to be known. Magic Eye could pass authoritative judgements on races far too close to call with the naked eye, within mere fractions of a second.
Nicola Spirig of Switzerland wins the women’s triathlon at the London 2012 Games in a photo finish. That’s one photo to determine the winner, after 1.5k of swimming, 40k of cycling, and a 10k run.

Omega is synonymous with Olympic Timing, from its first instance timing an entire Games (for any company), in Los Angeles in 1932, through to today. While other watchmakers have provided timekeeping for the Olympics before and after 1932, in recent years, both the Summer and Winter Games have been timed by Omega.

Phelps, Michael: Few athletes have proven as dominant in their chosen sports as Michael Phelps, who won a record eight gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Games, overtaking fellow American swimmer Mark Spitz. On the way to that record, Phelps had to dig deep and come from behind in the men’s 100m butterfly to defeat Milorad Cavic of Serbia by 1/100th of a second.
Quantum: Omega’s Quantum and Quantum Aquatics Timers with resolution of one-millionth of a second were unveiled at the London 2012 games. This system, which forms part of the heart of Omega’s Olympic timing, was discussed in a recent interview with Omega’s CEO of TIming, Alain Zobrist.
R&D: Continually improving its technologies has prepared Omega Timing to take on the challenge of working in successive Olympiads. According to a recent article published in Wired, Omega Timing currently employs some 180 engineers in its R&D department.

Seiko last timed the Summer Olympics when they were held in Barcelona in 1992. But the company’s most famous turn as Olympic timer likely came when they timed the 1964 Tokyo Games with specially designed stopwatches. This time around in Tokyo, Omega is back once again as the official timer, of course.

Touchpads: Omega brought touchpad timing to the Olympic swimming events at the 1968 Games in Mexico City. A swimmer touched the pad on the wall and their time was instantly recorded. A year prior, the system was used at the 1967 Pan American Games in Winnipeg, Canada.
Usain Bolt set the Olympic and world record for the men’s 100m dash with a time of 9.69 seconds at the 2008 Beijing Games. The Hublot ambassador would go on to break his own world record a year later at the IAAF World Championships in Berlin, clocking in at 9.58 seconds.

Vision: The 1992 Winter Games in Albertville, France, introduced Omega’s Scan-O-Vision system, which brought greater timing accuracy to Olympic timing – to the thousandth of a second.
Winning an Olympic gold medal is the highest achievement many athletes can hope to achieve. Thanks to rapid advances in timing technology, many athletes can now see immediately after a race whether they’ve won or not, just by looking up at the leaderboard right after crossing the finish line.

X: The Tenth Olympiad saw the summer Olympics hosted in 1932 by the city of Los Angeles. Omega was selected as the official timer, a role it has reprised many more times through the years, in both Summer and Winter Games.

Yohan Blake, the Jamaican sprinter and training partner of Usain Bolt, wore a unique Richard Mille prototype tourbillon while competing in the 100m dash at the London 2012 Games. Blake placed second in the event, coming in 0.12 seconds behind Bolt.
Zero Seconds: The closest Olympic two-man bobsled competition took place at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games in South Korea, when Canada and Germany each finished with a time of 3 minutes 16.86 seconds. The winner of the event is determined by adding up the times, to the hundredth of a second, after four runs of the track. Four runs for the same time!