In-Depth: Omega's History At The Olympics

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games’ timing will be once again in the hands of the Swiss brand that first timed the events in 1932.

By Hyla Bauer

With the games set to start this Friday, July 23rd, Omega pushes full steam ahead with technological advances for timing at the Olympic Games. Like the athletes themselves, the brand gives its all, ensuring precision timekeeping at the world’s most prestigious sporting contest. The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, although postponed until 2021 due to the pandemic, are no exception to the ongoing tradition.

Let’s take a look back at the brand’s history with the Olympics.

From 30 Stopwatches to 435 Scoreboards

Back in 1932, Omega became the first brand to direct all of the Olympics’ timekeeping. That year, a single Omega watchmaker traveled to Los Angeles equipped with 30 stopwatches, accurate to 1/10th of a second, to time 117 events in 14 sports.

In contrast, this year, Omega will have 530 timekeepers and professionals operating its equipment across 33 sports and a total of 339 events. There will also be 435 Omega-operated scoreboards.

In all, Omega has shipped over 400 tons (800,000 pounds) of equipment to Tokyo for the events that will run from July 23rd through August 8th. 

Video: Timekeeping and tradition: OMEGA meets Japan

Heavy Lifting

While we may not know exactly how much Omega’s 30 stopwatches and cases for 1932 Games weighed, it was almost surely not in excess of 100 pounds. If that estimate is relatively accurate, it would be an 80,000 percent equipment weight increase since 1932. 

Over the years, the Olympics as a worldwide event has grown by leaps and bounds, with more participants, more sports, and more countries participating. Technological advances in the media around the world saw the Games’ popularity soar. And Omega has continued apace, developing increasingly accurate timekeeping. 

Notable Advancements

In 1968, the Olympics converted to all-electronic timekeeping. But before then, in 1948, Omega created and operated the Olympics’ first photo finish camera. In 1952, the brand introduced an electronic chronograph that could instantly print a race’s results, accurate to 1/100th of a second.

Other milestones included: simultaneous time display for the TV broadcast of the 1964 Games in Innsbruck; and at 1968’s Mexico City Olympics, the introduction of swimming race touchpads, one of the most significant timekeeping advances in sports history, according to the brand. 

However, international competition didn’t only affected the athletes. Omega felt the heat, too, especially when Seiko was chosen as the Official Timer for the 1964 Winter Olympics in Tokyo. The emerging Japanese brand went on to time the Games in 1972, 1992, 1994, and 1998.

By 2006, though, Omega had renewed its standing as the Official Timekeeper of the Olympic Games and was ready to hit the ground running (so to speak).

Starting Gun Optimization 

Omega’s recent advances include an electronic starting pistol, solving a problem with traditional starting pistols that normies like us never considered. According to the brand: “Sound travels slower than light, meaning that the athletes in the furthest lanes would hear the start later than everyone else, while closer athletes heard it first.

So, to rectify this imbalance, Omega connected the pistol “to speakers positioned behind each racer. When the trigger is pressed, a sound is ‘played,’ a light flash is emitted, and a start pulse is given to the timing device. This system is the fairest way to give every athlete an equal start.”

Photo Finish

Another notable advancement is photocell technology at the finish line. World-class athletes and their coaches will appreciate this year’s new motion sensing positioning systems across several sports including track events, swimming, gymnastics, the new Sport Climbing event, and the triathlon.

The new finish line technology uses four individual cells instead of just one. As Omega explained it, the cells are “all integrated into one unit, allowing more body patterns to be detected.” The cells give an immediate finishing time, but “the official time is always taken from the photo finish camera.”

To Brisbane, and Beyond? 

Clearly, this year, Omega’s got the entire Olympics Games timing covered. But what about the future?

The brand will continue as the Official Timekeeper until at least 2032, when the games will be held in Brisbane.

Be sure to watch the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on NBC from July 23 - August 8, 2021.

For more information about Omega’s history with the Olympic Games, visit the brand’s special landing page.

(Images © OMEGA Watches)

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