Olympic timing a high-tech affair

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia–Less than a century ago, the timing of downhill skiing required someone at the top and bottom of the run, each with a stopwatch synchronized to the time of day.

Every few skiers, the timer at the top would send down a piece of paper with the start times of the last few skiers and then some math would ensue, eventually resulting in the time of the run being calculated.

Oh, how things have changed. Not only is everything electronic, of course, but the sensors are often tied to the athletes themselves. In speedskating, racers wear a transponder that can measure not only start and finish times, but also determine other things, such as acceleration in and out of a turn. On the slopes, it is the skier's knees passing through a “snowgate” that creates a contact, instantly sending an impulse to triggers the start of the electronic timing.

That said, the high-tech effort actually requires more people to administer. At its first Olympics, in Germany in 1936, Omega sent a single technician with 27 stopwatches to the Games. At the 2006 Turin, Italy, Winter Games, Omega sent 208 people–127 timekeepers and 81 data handlers–along with some 220 tons of equipment.

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