This timing technology determines who wins the gold

For Olympians, the difference between first and second place can come down to almost no time at all. Omega Timing CEO Alain Zobrist and his firm make sure every millisecond counts.

by @terryscollins

August 11, 2016

Original Article Published on


Timing is everything.

Ask US Olympic swimmer Katie Ledecky, who was trailing by six tenths of a second at the halfway mark of the nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat women’s 200-meter freestyle finals at the Rio Games on Tuesday night.

By the heart-pounding final turn, she had not only cut that gap but taken a lead. Ledecky touched the wall first — just three-tenths of a second before Sweden’s Sarah Sjöström — to win her second gold medal in as many days.

“I saw I had the lead and I wasn’t about to let it go, I could feel her there,” the 19-year-old Ledecky told NBC Sports afterward. “That’s the closest I’ve gotten to having to throw up in the middle of a race.”

The razor-close finish is what Omega Timing CEO Alain Zobrist lives for. His unit has been the Olympics’ official timekeeper for nearly a century. Omega’s goal is both complex and simple. It wants to make sure its vast array of technology is precise and accurate for nearly 30 Olympic sports.

In Omega’s arsenal: timers, touchpads, sensors, cameras and laser scanners.

Switzerland-based Omega’s long history of furnishing timekeeping equipment for the Olympics started in 1932, when it provided 30 handheld stopwatches to keep track of winners at the Los Angeles Summer Games.

But “technology,” Zobrist said, “has changed.” Omega has dispatched 480 timekeepers to Rio, where they’ll handle 480 tons of equipment.

That includes the Scan’O’Vision Myria camera, which can snap up to 10,000 high-definition images per second at the finish line in an effort to eliminate doubt as to a race’s winner.

“Previously, it was a camera that took 2,000 pictures,” he said.