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Marking its position as Olympic Timekeeper for the 29th time, the Swatch Group brand returns to record the Olympics this year, introducing new technology in order to champion the success of the Tokyo 2020 athletes.

For this uncomfortably compressed version of the Olympic Games, the opening ceremony saw a display of subdued celebrations. For the 32nd Olympiad, saturated with dissonance, time has played a concerning role. Is the right time to host a global event in the midst of a pandemic? And why is it still taking time to acknowledge the prejudice against women in sport?

The timing of the largest global sporting event has the world divided, but as the show goes on, the resilience and determination of the athletes involved should set the tone moving forward for this year’s cohort. After all, upholding the name ‘Tokyo 2020’ only reaffirms the long plight and dedication these athletes had to endure, training across various lockdowns only to provide, the same – if not a better – sporting performance.

Omegascope 1964_Innsbruck
1948_The Electonic Era Arrives

As we utilise this Olympic Games to champion the athletes rather than the organization,and the magnitude of their success, timekeeping in these superlative events is as intrinsic to the athlete and their sport as the goals they set. After all, how can these personal bests be recorded without the hands of a ticking clock?

The unfolding of the human eye to manmade machines

Etched into the history of the Olympic games, Omega’s origins as timekeeper began in 1932 with just 30 humble stopwatches. Overseeing the games in Los Angeles, it was the first time a single watch company was chosen to be an Official Timekeeper. A defining moment, Omega recorded times accurate to the nearest 1/10th of a second.

Later in 1948 as technology began to further revolutionise sport, the electronic era arrived in London where carefully curated machinery began to outperform the human eye. With this came the first photo finish camera, pinpointing the precise finish positions in races alongside the Photoelectric cell which electronically paused the clock once the athlete reached the finish line. 

Making every second matter

Boasting rapid expansion, less than 20 years on, Omega transformed the Olympic experience as we know it today. In 1964, the watchmaker’s launched Omegascape technology, a piece of equipment introducing real  time to the screen so that viewers could see the timing, superimposed on the bottom of the screen. With the eyes of millions looking at the screen, every measurement had to be precise. Considered one of the most important moments in timekeeping history, swimming touchpads were instigated just four years later in Mexico City reacting to the slightest of touches, so that when an athlete reached the finish line, time could be stopped with their own hands.

In less than 100 years since Omega’s involvement in 1932, timekeeping has developed from recording 1/10th of a second to a millionth. In keeping with this extraordinary progress, this year, the game debuts new technology for the history books. On the track and in the pool, athletes will be fitted with motion sensor tags on their start numbers documenting live positions, live speed, acceleration, deceleration and distance.

The next chapter of timekeeping technology

This year marks the incorporation of five new sports: baseball, softball, karate, skateboarding, sports climbing and surfing. Sport climbing has seen spectacular growth in recent years and is particularly popular in urban settings, where climbing gyms have helped to accelerate interest amongst young people. At Tokyo 2020, the athletes will compete in three disciplines. The results of these will be combined as a single ranking to determine the men’s and women’s medals. Simply the fastest to reach the top of a 15m wall. Two athletes will compete side by side and OMEGA has positioned two clocks at the top of the wall. When the climbers reach the top, they must stop their own time by hitting the new OMEGA climbing touchpads. Interestingly, this is now just the second Olympic Games sport, after swimming, where athletes will stop their own time. It marks a truly important evolution of this famous technology. 

Counting every second of the 339 events that will be contested this year across 33 different sports, each Olympic games is an opportunity for the Swiss watchmaker and manufacturer to push beyond the limits of timekeeping. As we champion those athletes who continue to demonstrate sensational assiduity, and go beyond the records set in the history books, in turn, we compel the measures of time to mirror this hardiness. We witness groundbreaking records set not just over finish lines and podiums, but maturing from traditional chronographs and keen eyes to the most remarkable and novel methods of timekeeping in our history.

All images courtesy of Omega
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Scarlett is a writer, editor, and creative consultant specializing in art, fashion, culture and digital strategy. Drawing on her work from previous titles including Dazed, LOVE Magazine, The Perfect Magazine, AnOther and 1 Granary, as the Editor-in-Chief of The Next Hour, Scarlett is leading the editorial vision toward new territories providing an alternative lens of social commentary to recontextualize the world of watchmaking for the next generation.