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Games timing

Jack Loo | July 1, 2008
Swiss watchmaker Omega will soon be very busy with the critical role of keeping time, scores and results at the Beijing Olympics. Jack Loo reports there is no room for mistakes. 

As official timekeeper for the Beijing 2008 Olympics from 8-24 August, Omega is responsible for official results at all competitions. There will be 28 Sports with 38 Disciplines and 302 Events timed, with each offering no second chance.

"At the end of a 1,500 metre run, it's not possible to say to the competitors, 'Sorry, we had a bit of a problem. Would you mind doing it again?'" says Christophe Berthaud, Omega's Olympic manager. He is also the CEO of events timing and equipment specialist Swiss Timing, an affiliate under Omega's parent company Swatch Group.

Competition will take place in seven cities including Hong Kong (Equestrian) and Qingdao (Sailing).

Omega's role at the Olympics meant that the capturing of the timings and scores has to be perfectly executed and the results have to be correctly recorded, displayed and distributed, adds Berthaud.

In its capacity as the official timekeeper, the Swiss watchmaker provides services that include the display of results to competitors and the public at the venues, for data handling and the provision of On Venue Results (OVR) at each of the venues and for the delivery of official results for distribution by the print, broadcast and network media.

Experienced timekeeper

The Beijing 2008 Olympic Games will be Omega's 23rd as official timekeeper. Omega first served in this position at the Los Angeles 1932 Olympic Games. The Swiss timekeeper will also be the official timekeeper of the Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver 2010 and the London 2012 Olympic Games.

For Omega, the Olympic Games are the culmination of more than three and a half years of preparation, says Berthaud.

"As soon as the closing ceremony was finished in Athens, our preparations were immediately underway for the 2006 Winter Games in Torino and the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing," he says.

Every piece of equipment used in the games was tested in Switzerland before being shipped to China. Once there, it was all tested again and installed together with the backup systems.

Leading up to the actual games, the Swiss time expert first needs to be familiar with each Olympic venue, have a comprehensive understanding of the sports that take place there, and subsequently the specific timekeeping and scoring requirements for every sport.

"Just as each venue is purpose-built for the Olympic sport it hosts, our equipment has often been developed for, or at least adapted to, the different events," says Berhaud.

Zero failure

A zero failure tolerance policy ensures that the equipment undergoes extensive tests. All of them would be tested prior to installation and even after the set-up. "We have extensive backup systems in place and these also have to be tested to our satisfaction."


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