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How Olympic Timing Works

Olympic Timing History

Although the history of the Olympic Games stretches back as far as 776 B.C.E., the history of Olympic timing technology began just over 100 years ago. These are the major breakthroughs:

  • 1896: Athens, Greece. First "modern" Olympic Games, stopwatches used to determine winners' times.
  • 1912: Stockholm, Sweden. Electrical timing and photo finish first used.
  • 1920s: Antwerp, Belgium; Paris, France; Amsterdam, Holland. Chronographs first used to measure to the hundredth of a second.
  • 1932: Los Angeles, Calif. Omega, currently a member of Swatch Group, named the first official timekeeper of the Olympic Games. "Kirby camera" introduced, which simultaneously photographed the finish line and featured a chronometer to time-stamp each shot.
  • 1948: Saint Moritz, Switzerland. Cellular photoelectric eye first used and slit camera adopted for photo finishes.
  • 1952: Helsinki, Finland. Omega Time Recorder first to use a quartz clock and print out results, earning the company a prestigious Cross of Merit from the Olympic Committee. Clocks added to slit cameras for automatic time-stamping, accurate to the hundredth of a second.
  • 1964: Tokyo, Japan. Competitors' times first shown live on television. Seiko, designated for the first time as official timekeeper of the Olympic Games, links the starting gun with a quartz clock and photo-finish camera.
  • 1968: Mexico City, Mexico. Contact plates first used to time aquatic events.
  • 1972: Munich, Germany. Reaction times first measured and taken into consideration during timing. Official times recorded to the hundredth of a second rather than the tenth of a second.
  • 1976: Montreal, Canada. Electronic scoreboards used for display of real-time scores.
  • 1988: Seoul, South Korea. Officials process the timing data for the first time in addition to recording it.
  • 1992: Albertville, France. Electronic photo-finish technology fully integrated with timing systems.
  • 1996: Atlanta, Ga. Radio transponders first used in cycling and marathon events.
  • 2002: Salt Lake City, Utah. Infrared beams replace photoelectric cells in sledding events; radio transponders first used in long-distance skiing events.
  • 2004: Athens, Greece. Photo-finish takes 1,000 pictures per second and radar guns are added to beach volleyball.
  • 2008: Beijing, China. GPS is used or the first time in rowing competitions, allowing viewers to see progress as the race progressed
  • 2010: Vancouver, Canada. Electronic starter pistol debuts
  • 2012: London, United Kingdom. The Quantum Timer and Quantum Aquatics Timer are introduced; both measure accuracy to one millionth of a second

For more information on Olympic timing technology and related topics, check out the links on the next page.