How Olympic Timekeepers Judge False Starts and Photo Finishes

Bahamas‘ Shaunae Miller falls over the finish line to win gold ahead of United States‘ Allyson Felix, right, in the 2016 women’s 400-meter final. Image: Matt Slocum/AP
Time is truly of the essence for Olympic athletes, as evidenced by some extremely close finishes at the Summer Games in Rio. For competitors at this elite level, a split-second can mean the difference between snagging Olympic gold and returning home without a medal.

By Becky Ferreira | MOTHERBOARD

Needless to say, every photo finish must be captured with as much precision as possible in order to clearly determine the winning lineup. For almost a century, that responsibility has fallen to Swiss watchmaking brand OMEGA, which has held the title of official Olympic timekeeper since the 1932 Summer Games were hosted in Los Angeles.

OMEGA was chosen for the role due the accuracy of its chronographs. This reputation eventually led the company to other historic opportunities, like hooking Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin up with the first watches worn on the Moon.

“1932 was, in actual fact, the first time that a single company had been given the role of timing every single event at the Olympic Games,” Alain Zobrist, CEO of OMEGA Timing, told me.

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