Omega Shares its Timekeeping Secrets

Omega’s Olympic timekeeping operations have ventured into uncharted territory with the scale and complexity of its engineering at the London games.

Omega's Silent Pistol.
Omega’s Silent Pistol.

One of Omega’s most substantial improvement over traditional timekeeping methods was the introduction of the so-called “silent pistol”. For years it was known that the use of an actual starting gun favored the sprinters who were closest it, sometimes by as much as 2/10 of a second. With the introduction of the silent gun, a speaker is placed behind the starting block of each runner. When the official pulls the trigger, the signal travels at the speed of light – rather than the speed of sound – to each runner’s speaker, thereby ensuring that everyone hears it at the same time.

The potential for a photo finish must have led to many sleepless nights for Omega engineers judging by the pains that were taken to document every step on video. The robotic cameras seen whizzing along the sidelines next to lightning-fast sprinters are capable of capturing 2,000 frames per second, according to Omega. Coupled with radio frequency transponders situated alongside the track, measuring time at the games is getting more and more accurate at the same time the athletes are getting faster and faster.

With intense rivalries like that of Michael Phelps and Ryan Lotke drawing millions of viewers, Omega performed dutifully under pressure. Undoubtedly, the Swatch Group subsidiary has assured its position as official timekeeper of the Olympics for many games to come.

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Source and photos courtesy Omega press release.

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