August 17, 2016
By Christian Frosch
There are moments in a sportsman’s life in which a blink of an eye counts. Days ago, the Olympics in Rio de Janero started. Athletes from 206 nations complete for medals, will throw their bodys towards the finishing line or will hit the wall in the swimming stadium to exhaust every millimetre. Timing the Olympics is closely associated with the name Omega. But the German watch manufacturer Junghans also contributed to the development of sport timekeeping.
Historical chronographes timed the Olympics once
Whereas nowadays cutting edge timekeeping devices are in use, in 1932 Omega delivered for the Olympic Games in Los Angeles 30 calibrated chronographs to stop the time accurately. The mechanical pocket watches were able to stop several split times.
A chronograph is a watch, which is able to stopp several split times. A chronometer is a very precise watch, which has been certified by a chronometer institute. Chronometer not only have been used for timekeeping, they are still offered for private watches. In Germany the chronometer institute is based at the Wempe observatory in Glashütte/Ore Mountains. In Switzerland, the controll institute COSC certifies precise mechanical watches.
In 1948 at the Olympics in London a photo finish was introduced. At the start they used an electronic pistol and a photo finish camera. „Electrity as a current is tremendously fast. Fast than a human thumb or a human eye, at least perceptionwise, can produce. You cross the light rail and it is done“ Petro Protopapas, International Brand Heritage Manager, explains in the documentary „Every split second counts“.
Since the Olympic Games of 1932 Omega has been serving as the official timekeeper over and over again.
At the Olympic Games 1972 in Munich the German watch manufacturer Junghans from the Black Forest served as official timekeeper. Junghans gave the sports world the first coloured photo finish. Furthermore, Junghans used electronic linked up starting blocks, start control devices and a double light rail system which revealed false starts.
Electronic touchpads for swimming competitions
In 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, there was an argument about the Olympic champion of a swimming contest. Back in 1960 at swimming contests judges still used a pocket watch by their own thumb, which resulted into a longer disagreement.
„Omega thought very hard how we can resolve this“, Peter Hürzeler, Timekeeping Board Member of Omega, recalls in the documentary. „The pad is 12 millimetre thick, to finalize a race, the athlet has to push two milimetre with a power from 1,5 to 2,5 kilogramm to close the contact and he stops the time himself“ he explains. In 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing the US American Michael Phelps won the 100 metre Butterfly with the extremely narrow lead of one hundreth second to the second Milroad Čavić.
Brazil meets Swiss watches
Brazil is not exactly a perfect example of Swiss precision. The organisation comittee in Rio had to face housing and security issues. To keep track of the competions time, again Omega, belonging to the Swatch Group, serves as official time keeper. 480 employees work with 450 tons equipment for a precise timekeeping. The camera which takes the photo finish of the 100 metre in athletics is capable taking 10000 photos a second. For the Swiss watch manufacturer founded in 1848 Rio are the 27th Olympic Games as offical timekeeper. Hence, Swiss watches become a counterpart to Brasilian relaxation.
Christine Fröhlich contributed research.