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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. 

The Test Events, a series of sport competitions held ahead of the games at the actual Olympics venues, allow Omega to make sure that everything works in an environment similar to the Olympics events.

"We're happy to report that everything has performed flawlessly. That, along with multiple backup systems, has given us a lot of confidence going into the Olympic Games. We understand how important our role is and we take absolutely nothing for granted," declares Berthaud.

Then when the timing, scoring and on-venue result systems are ready for the start of the games, Omega engineers have to be certain that they'll be properly displayed at the venues and efficiently distributed to the broadcast and electronic media. All of those interfaces are checked in advance and throughout the games.

Heavy scoreboards

In the games, there are 78 public scoreboards altogether along with 322 sport-specific scoreboards and 83 plasma screens. The largest of the scoreboards are being used in the athletics competitions. They are modular and the two sides, front and back, have a combined weight of 16 tonnes.

"One of the big differences in Beijing is that the scoreboards require a higher resolution than those we used in the past, because they display the results in Chinese, whose characters are more complex than those in our so-called Roman alphabet."

The results of each competition have to be made available both to the spectators at the venues, to the broadcasters, journalists and online result providers and, of course, to the athletes themselves.

The OVR system co-ordinates the official results of competitions at a specific venue. The software processes the data recorded by the systems and to present it in the form of official results.

"This has to be done unambiguously and in real time. Is some cases, the results are so close that identifying the winners is difficult with the naked eye, so Omega timekeeping technology confirms the finishing order and also lets everyone know immediately if new records have been set."

2,000 images per second

One of the tools needed for this task is the Omega Scan 'O' Vision photo finish camera. As its name entails, it ensures the capturing of the right results when race finishes are too close to call. It is able to record 2,000 images per second. "Compare that with the stopwatches used when Omega first served as official timekeeper in 1932. They only measured time to the nearest tenth of a second."

At the 'bird's nest' National Stadium where key athletics events will be held, Omega will be introducing new timing and scoring systems, a new false start system, a new cabling system, a new high-definition (HD) control camera and transponders for use in the marathon, walking events, and lap races. "Spectators at the 'bird's nest' will see all the results on the two huge stadium scoreboards and on each scoreboard specifically dedicated to a discipline."


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