LOOK: A Brief History of Omega and the Olympic Games
With the COVID-19 pandemic still raging, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics was initially postponed that year and was resumed this 2021. All of this, despite calls from both Japan and other countries to cancel the Olympics. Sports fans were also not allowed to go to the venues where the games will occur after Tokyo declared a state of emergency amidst the pandemic. But thousands of athletes, journalists, and support staff will be present during the games.
People will remember this year’s Olympics for the absence of sports fans. But there is one thing that will remain present during this event. And that is the official timekeeper of the Olympics, Omega. Omega will provide the equipment and assistance necessary for the Olympic Games. But this is not the first time that Omega became the official timekeeper of the Olympic Games.
1932: The Year When It All Started
The current standing of Omega as the official timekeeper of the largest sporting event in the world started during the 1932 Olympics, which took place in Los Angeles, California. It was the first time that the company has participated in the event. This was also the first time that the Olympics entrusted the valuable role of recording the time to a single timekeeper. Since then, the 1932 Olympic Games would spark the long and deep partnership of the Olympic Games and Omega. Omega also improved the state of timekeeping in sports, from 1/10th of a second in 1932 to 1/1000th of a second today. And that is attributed to the company’s participation in the Olympics. But Omega started small by sending a single watchmaker and 30 chronometer-certified mechanical chronographs to record all the disciplines during this event. These chronographs were able to make timekeeping precise to a fifth of a second. They were equipped with split-seconds functions as well. This feature makes Omega chronographs capable of timing two separate events at the same time.
1936: Omega’s Standing as Timekeeper Continues
The 1936 Olympics is memorable for several reasons. For one, this was the time when Berlin hosted the games. During this year, Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party were already ruling Germany. This was also an opportunity for him and his party to showcase the best of Nazi Germany and its ideals. But during this event, Omega continued its partnership with the Olympic Games after the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles. This time, the Olympic Games used 185 mechanical chronographs to time all the sports in this event. Omega’s chronographs timed the remarkable victory of American athlete Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals during the competition. Because Jesse Owens was an African-American, his triumph did not impress Hitler. But Omega’s chronographs helped time this remarkable achievement.
1948: The Start of an Innovation for Omega
Flash forward to 1948, when the Olympics was held in London, the United Kingdom. This was the first-ever Olympic Games to be held again after the end of the Second World War. The 1940 and 1944 Olympic Games were canceled due to the war. During this time, Omega worked on many innovations for its timepieces. Nevertheless, the 1948 Olympic Games was the time when Omega first introduced a piece of innovative equipment to this event. Created through the collaboration of Omega and the British Race Finish Recording Company, the first photoelectric cell photo-finish camera dubbed the “Magic Eye” was first unveiled at this event.
Before its invention, the Olympic Games relied on humans with stopwatches to record the time during competitions. The invention of the “Magic Eye” was not only a milestone for Omega but the Olympic Games as well. This unique equipment ushered in a new era of electronic sports timekeeping, where technology surpassed human capabilities. The “Magic Eye” also ensured accuracy and fairness in recording time during competitions. This machine was able to record the exact moment when the athletes crossed the finish line. The 1948 Olympics also saw the invention of the first photoelectric cell, which stopped the clock electronically as soon as the first athlete crossed the finish line.
1952: Recognition of Partnership (And an All-New Innovation)
The 1952 Helsinki Olympics did not just go down in history as the coldest Summer Games ever, with temperatures reaching as low as 5.9°C or 42.6°F). It was also a milestone for Omega and its partnership with the Olympic Games. To commemorate this partnership, the IOC awarded the Cross of Merit to Omega for its services to the Olympic Games. The 1952 Olympics also marked Omega’s 20th anniversary as the official timekeeper of the Olympics. Omega also unveiled another innovation during this event. And this was the quartz-driven Omega Time Recorder. This equipment, however, was not the first quartz-driven machine to be used during sporting events. But what made the Omega Timer Recorder special is it did not only record the time during events. It also printed the results to the nearest 1/100th of a second, ensuring quick timekeeping and accuracy. The Omega Time Recorder was also powered using batteries, which meant that it became independent from the unreliable electric systems during this time.
2020/2021: The Partnership Continues
From 1952, Omega would continue to provide innovative equipment to various Olympic Games, such as the swimming touchpads during the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, electronic starting pistols during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, and the Quantum Timer during the 2012 London Olympics. But the innovation does not stop there, as Omega will continue to bring state-of-the-art equipment for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Recently, the company spent four years studying and perfecting the use of Artificial Intelligence to learn the movements of beach volleyball athletes and even the ball itself. Omega will also bring 400 tons of equipment such as photo-finish cameras, timers, scoreboards, and swimming touchpads to the Land of the Rising Sun as part of the event. 530 professional timekeepers will also participate to man this equipment. They are responsible for timing 339 events in 33 sports during the Olympic Games in Tokyo. Innovations such as motion sensors and positioning systems will also have their debut in perhaps the biggest and most consequential Olympic Games in the 21st century.
Omega has fulfilled a valuable role that no other timekeeper was able to play. Through its extensive and deep partnership with the International Olympic Committee, Omega has become the watch brand associated with sports. But its collaboration with the IOC is more than just a brand placement. While other brands like Coca-Cola and Procter and Gamble participate in the Olympics, Omega is tasked to ensure that the results of the competition will not only be accurate but fair. These are big shoes to fill, and luckily Omega has the expertise and the experience to handle the hardest job at the most renowned sporting event in the world.