Winning At The Olympic Games: ‘It’s A Question Of Time,’ Says Omega
Posted on Jul 20, 2021 by Brad McCabe
No other brand is more actively involved in sports timekeeping than Omega. In addition to partnerships in golf, sailing, athletics and swimming, it will have been the official timekeeper of the Olympic Games for 90 years next year.

This role has not only involved mastering the different needs to timing a whole host of sports precisely, but also the continuous development of the equipment that today and tomorrow’s athletes, and their coaches, rely on.

The behind-the-scenes complexity of time-keeping for sports at the highest level is underappreciated. There has to be a willingness to take risks, for a start. It is because of Omega’s representation, based on time-keeping facts, that a finishing line photo gave Michelle Chardonnet her medal bronze back in 1985 for the 100m hurdles completed in 1984. Originally Kim Turner and Michele Chardonnet were declared as tied for third, but the IAAF proclaimed Turner the sole bronze medalist. Upon appealing, Chardonnet was given her bronze medal six months later.

The enduring position of Omega was not pre-determined. In the 1980s, the whole Swiss watch industry was endangered by the quartz revolution and subsequent technological breakthroughs by SeikoCitizen and Casio.

Nicolas Hayek engineered a turnaround by federating multiple companies into one new group and launching Swatch. One of the companies taken under Swatch’s wing was Omega.

Today, the Swatch Group is a family-run business led by Hayek’s two children with another generation lined up behind. One of its companies — Swiss Timing — is what haute couture is to LVMH. The worldwide leading company in developing and producing electronic scoring and timing systems for sports competitions, it is also an experimental lab that pushes the boundaries, creates desirability and stuns everyone in the rest of the business.
With sports so important to billions of people and the creator of deep emotions, Swiss Timing — with Omega as its vehicle — has an important place in the world. And never more so than right now, as live sports return in more accessible formats after a war-like silence necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Innovation for accuracy
Omega has a key value in common with competitive athletes: improving time. And it is in this purpose that its innovation lies. But measuring the 100m sprint requires totally different technology to measuring the 200-meter backstroke, say, and Omega’s appreciation of this has led the company to receive countless awards for services to the world of sport.

Advances in measuring the one hundredth of a second are what matters to establish world records. It’s both empowering and a huge responsibility.

And yet, the innovation is not just about the time keeping, but about feeding an entire ecosystem with innovation, from electronics to printing and filming capabilities, TV and display electronics, sound engineering and hardware.

While the many editions have changed a lot since the 1932 LA games where Omega made its foray into the Olympic world, the spirit of high performance remains and Omega continues to align with it.

How did they get here?
In 1976, when Omega was allowed to use the words “Official Timekeeper of the Olympics”, the contract was 20 pages long. Today, the rights and obligations are laid down in a 197-page document.

Since 1936, Omega has been sending not only clocks but entire teams of repairers and technicians to the Games. The company is required to cover 35 sports, with a comprehensive list of specifications of 150 to 300 pages for each. An “Olympic Result Information System” produces 54 different sets of results and statistic sheets for each event, and a daily report 30 minutes after the end of each.

Omega started benefiting from the publicity coming from larger TV broadcasts in the 60s, as the International Olympic Committee received money from television stations for the first time. Innsbruck 1964 provided the first large-scale TV broadcasting opportunity. The public was informed of the times athletes had taken on giant screens by Omega for the first time ever.

Tests of new technologies are always done before the Olympics, at regional championships, for example. Ensuring transparency is a key concern: in 1968, Omega started to provide the press, TV, judges and the general public with additional information and statistics.

Tokyo 2020: Unfazed by the COVID pandemic
or the 29th time in history, the brand will fulfil its role as the Official Timekeeper of the Olympic Games in Tokyo this month.
339 events in 33 sports will be competed in Japan, and Omega will be measuring every second  of  action.  New  sports for this years Games provide new timing challenges: karate, sport climbing, surfing, baseball and skateboarding.

Omega’s precision and equipment is a vital part of every athlete going for gold. The company’s timekeeping evolution is set to continue in Japan with new motion sensing and positioning technologies that will redefine our understanding of sport. It will tell the complete story of each event as it unfolds. 

With the use of motion sensing and positioning systems, a comprehensive range of real-time data will be collected, giving everyone a total understanding of how each event was won.

Spectators will be entertained by being able to see exactly how an athlete reached their final time and result, providing incredibly helpful learnings for athletes and coaches too. Furthermore, the information will give commentators and analysts much more content for their storytelling of a victory. In the absence of a colorful crowd on site to tell the story visually, this will be highly valued.

How did Omega adapt to the postponement? Well, time on the job has, to some degree, helped Omega be agile – a prerequisite for innovation.

“Omega has been operating since 1848 and during that time we have witnessed many social and economic difficulties throughout the world,” says Raynald Aeschlimann, Omega’s President & CEO. “We have learned to be adaptable and this recent Olympic Games challenge is no exception. We are a very resilient brand and we have been able to adjust very well.”

“From a logistical point of view, the postponement required some reorganization for our timekeeping team. However our close relationship with the IOC, which has been ongoing since 1932, has ensured that we’ve been greatly supported and that our changing needs have been catered to in a straightforward way.”

That said, being prepared for the unplanned has always been something Omega has prioritized. Just think, snowstorms can bury key timekeeping equipment for ski competitions and it’s on the Omega team to be able improvise and repair things quickly.

Omega wants to break records too
Omega invented a much precise digital technology[+]OMEGA
As OMEGA approaches 100 years of Olympic Games timekeeping, its evolution from simple stopwatches to high-tech equipment – with time itself unchanging – perfectly shows the innovation and pioneering spirit possible in a brand.

In London in 2012, Omega introduced three new pieces of “futuristic” equipment, including new starting blocks used by sprinters and short-distance runners; the innovative “swimming show” that instantly ranks the top three finishers in the pool; and the high-precision “quantum timer” used in athletics and water sports that has an enhanced resolution of one millionth of a second.

Today, even more devices are being used such as the light and electronic sound “starting pistol” in bright red, and the Omega Scan’O’Vision MYRIA that captures 10,000 frames per second in a photo finish.

“I expect we will continue in the same way, with many more exciting developments to come,” says Aeschlimann. “But really, the next frontier is already here. Motion sensing and positioning systems are helping us to see and understand each event in a brand new way, with in-depth data and live athlete information being collected like never before.”

All that started in PyeongChang, the 2018 Winter Olympics, and you’ll see much more of it on screen from July 23rd at Tokyo 2020.
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Organizations connected to this article
Omega SA
International Olympic Committee
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