Omega keeps watch at the Games

By Chris Smith
Omega has been a visible partner in Tokyo, especially at the swimming events. getty images

Swiss watchmaker Omega has a longer history with the Olympics than almost any other brand, first sending a timekeeper with 30 hand stopwatches to the Los Angeles Games in 1932. Thanks to a 2017 extension of its global partnership with the International Olympic Committee, that relationship will run through at least 2032.

“For Omega, [the Olympics are] a key moment. This is the biggest sports event, this is our biggest investment,” said Omega CEO Raynald Aeschlimann. “But it is also the best way of being on the screen, being close to the athletes on the field. This is a magnificent way of providing us the way we are, and that means a very big love of sport.”

Today, Omega is a key operational partner for the Games, providing technology — timers, cameras, touchpads and more — as well as the manpower to handle timing and statskeeping, which also falls under Omega’s official timekeeping duties.

The scale of those operations is extraordinary. In Tokyo, Omega has deployed 400 tons of equipment, including 350 sport-specific scoreboards and over 120 miles of cable, along with 530 staffers and 900 volunteers. And these days it’s not just stopwatches. Omega is responsible for installing starting blocks, integrated with pressure sensors to detect false starts, plus electric starting guns, touchpads for swimming and sport climbing, and numerous other solutions. It takes about 10 days for Omega to deploy its technology throughout the Olympic footprint, which gives staffers enough time to fully install and test equipment by two days before competition begins.

According to Alain Zobrist, Omega’s CEO of timing, the watch brand’s team is spread throughout 26 hotels around Tokyo, and the company has also deployed its own shuttle system to adjust for organizers’ COVID-related restrictions. “You usually always use public transport, but we’re not allowed to use it here,” said Zobrist. “So we created our shuttle system to make sure our timekeepers get on-site in time.” Timekeepers typically arrive two hours before an event starts.

The brand has a division of 180 engineers working full time on sports technology, and Omega provides services to about 500 sporting events each year. “We’re always trying to have a bottom-up approach when we implement new technologies,” said Zobrist, who declined to comment on financial details of the brand’s sports R&D investment. “We will first start to use the technology in a local event, then go national, then go televised, then go continental. Then world cups, world championships, and then to the Olympics. So there’s no technology here that we’re using at the Olympics for the first time that was not thoroughly tested before.”

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