OMEGA has been the official timekeeper of the Olympic Games since 1932. It has evolved and revolutionised the timekeeping equipment that athletes depend on and has recorded every result with tremendous precision and expertise over the past few decades. Additionally, the Swiss luxury watchmaker has contributed to the development of data handling technology, including distribution, display and storage of the results, aiming to record the extraordinary performances of the world’s best athletes.
Coinciding with the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, a special exhibition was held in Hong Kong to showcase some of the historic timekeeping equipment that were used at past Olympic Games, such as the split-second chronograph from 1953 that recorded time to 1/1oth of a second, the Swim-O-Matic aquatic timer and the OMEGA Photosprint camera which was used at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. The exhibition celebrated OMEGA’s timekeeping legacy at the Olympic Games.
Let’s go through some of the highlights of the exhibition below.
Designed to be worn on the shoulder, this chrome-plated timer is presented in a red protective box that prevented accidental stoppage of timing. This model, was used in events such as athletics, swimming, cycling, skiing, speed skating, bobsleigh, rowing and canoeing. It could time of 1/10th of a speed.
The OMEGA Photosprint camera was developed in 1963 and first used for the athletic events at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. It filmed all runners as they crossed the finish line and could develop pictures within 30 seconds. Time was actually written on the strip of film so that timekeepers could see an accurate result. In 1968, this camera recorded 10 world records including the 100m final, where Jim Hines set a new record of 9.95 seconds.
Designed to be worn on the shoulder, this chrome-plated time comes with a red protection box that prevents an accidental stopping of the timer. This model, among the others, were used at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico. It could time to 1/10th of a second in sports including athletics, swimming, skiing, cross country skiing, water-skiing, bobsleigh, artistic skating, speed skating, cycling, horse riding, rowing and canoeing.
The Swim-O-Matic is a semi-automatic swimming timer that is accurate to the nearest one-thousandth of a second. It allowed timekeepers to distinguish between swimmers who finished at virtually the same instant. However, since swimming pool architecture cannot guarantee that each lane is the exact same length, the precision of the Swim-O-Matic was too fine. For that reason, FINA decided to use it to measure only to the nearest hundredth of a second.
Designed for continuous timing with intermediary stops, the “Omnisports” is a multisport timer that can time to ⅕th of a second. The dial has sections for water polo, ice hockey, basketball, handball, hockey, rugby and soccer.
In a water polo game, players only have 30 seconds to shoot for goal. This short time indicator counts those 30 seconds down and emits a loud acoustic signal when the time is up. This clock was first introduced at Sydney 2000 during the first ever women’s water polo matches played at an Olympic Games.
Watch Movement for Observatory Contest
The advanced high-frequency OMEGA stop watch that was able to measure with an accuracy of 1/100th of a second. An incredible feat for a purely mechanical timing device with the central seconds hand completing one revolution in just three seconds.
The OMEGA Olympic split-seconds chronograph of 1932. The first official chronograph for the Olympic Games of 1932 in Los Angeles, featuring a high frequency 24” calibre that was able to measure lap times with an accuracy of 1/10th of a second.
In the early days, athletes had to dig their own starting blocks with shovels, such as for Jesse Owen’s famous victories in 1936. OMEGA transformed the start of races by developing adjustable starting blocks. At the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games, these starting blocks were fitted with false-start technology. The blocks measure the applied pressure and then determine the reaction time when the runner takes off, and also allowing for electronic detection of false-starts. Each block had a built-in speaker so that the athletes would hear the starting signal at the exact same moment.
This photofinish camera is set up at the finish line of sprints, hurdles and other athletic events and captures 10,000 digital images per second. Each runner’s image is captured as he or she crosses the finish line and it is this information that the judges use to officially determine the winner of each race. Improved light sensitivity means that images are of higher quality than with previous versions of the photofinish camera. Thanks to its compact size, the camera also takes less time to assemble and disassemble.
The problem with the traditional starting pistol was that sound travels slower than light, so the racers who were closest to the pistol had a slight advantage because they would hear the start signal a fraction of a second before everyone else. Therefore, OMEGA developed this streamlined, bright red device, composed of a flash and a sound generation box. It is connected to speakers positioned behind each racer so that each athlete hears the start signal at exactly the same moment. When the starter presses its trigger, three things happen simultaneously: the sound is “played”, a light flash is emitted and a start pulse is given to the timing device.