Being named the official timekeeping device for NASA space exploration is one thing, following mankind successfully to the moon is another. Putting that certification to the test by having Cpt. Lovell successfully time rocket thruster activation thus saving the lives of your Apollo 13 crewmates will definitely cement your timekeeping legacy. BUT, back in 1932, long before Omega entered space, they were a watchmaker dedicated to the study and continuing excellence of human endeavour – we are talking about joint partnership with humanity in the timing the Olympics.
Stronger. Better. Faster.
While the Olympics have been plagued by political, economic and bio-chemical (read: steroids) scandals, at its core, the Games have been about pushing the frontiers of human endurance and physicality. It’s this human endeavour of pushing the envelope in which Omega and the Olympics find themselves truly sympatico.
Naturally, it is safe to assume that the honorary of “official timekeeper” implies “one man with a stopwatch”. WHile that was largely true since the Grecian Olympics were revived, what started in 1932 with one Omega watchmaker and 30 stopwatches has blossomed into a partnership at the last Rio games with close to 500 hundred timing professionals, assisted by close to 900 specialists and 450 tonnes of equipment. It’s no longer just a simple matter of pushing a button when the event start is signaled but a complex sequence activations.
On Earth, As in Heaven: Omega, towards 100 years of Olympic Timekeeping
While many watchmaking brands have found their niche sponsorships timing competitive races of man and horsepower, Omega finds themselves uniquely positioned in testing the limits of human capability in its rawest, most basic form (chemical abuse notwithstanding). The relationship with the Olympics began in 1932 but so important was this responsibility that an separate entity named Swiss Timing was founded in 1972 with the joint intellectual assets of Omega Timing and Longines Timing.
Athletes spend their entire lives training for one singular Olympian moment and thus, the onus of responsibility to time their competitive efforts with precision and accuracy becomes a sacred duty; far beyond the scope of pushing a chronograph button but involving keeping track of 26 to 33 (by 2020) sporting events and the individual rules and regulations governing each sport.
Consider the split-seconds chronograph and the ability to time twin events, now consider Omega’s burden of timing a sprinting event while a long jump, high jump and discus event is ongoing, anywhere from 20 to 40 timekeepers and their supporting equipment has to be on the field and working optimally – it’s a gargantuan effort of coordination.
For space exploration, NASA astronauts and pilots follow the instructions of mission control from start to finish in a complex series of events. On Earth, the 100 metre sprint might appear to be simply turning up at the runner’s blocks and waiting for the gun to go off but there’s similar prep work which goes on behind the scenes to ensure that each athlete has an equal chance and the methods and processes have grown similarly sophisticated.
In the old days, a starter’s pistol was fired from the sidelines and eventually, it was determined that even if the speed of sound rendered the “bang” inconsequential across the short line of runners abreast, sprinters closest to the gun technically had an advantage because subconsciously, they would perceive the “bang” even before their competitors on the inner track could hear the shot.
So, Omega developed a timekeeping “high complication” – the modern starter pistol is an electronic device of light flash with the simulated shot playing through speakers behind the starting blocks – each runner hears the exact same sound, perceives the same flash, at the same time. Even the running block itself has been designed to calculate foot pressure to ensure that runners push off at exactly the same time and with the mass of each foot firmly planted on the sensor – today, we celebrate chronographs with 1/10th to 1/100th of a second and the reality is that Omega has been timing 100 milliseconds false starts since the 50s. That said, given the tight races, the finish is as essential as the start – and Omega has had to develop sophisticated imaging technology called Photoelectric cells to capture the finish line in order to determine who crossed first; up to 10,000 pictures are taken in an instant in order to seize the moment of finish.
Omega and Mankind: Joint Partners
Announcing Omega’s extension of partnership with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) through to 2032; a century of cooperation is truly a remarkable historical and corporate milestone where Omega has served as Official Timekeeper 27 times; having developed and introduced the most cutting-edge timekeeping equipment in the world, it looks like Omega’s heritage will be indelibly intertwined with mankind’s scientific, technological and physiological progress.