Timing the Olympics, Over TimeS

Over at Beyond Binary, Ina Fried's got a fascinating profile of Omega Timing, the company that's been managing event timing at the Olympics for over 70 years. Counting seconds now is somehow totally different than it was in 1936.

Take the methods for timing skiers:

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.

Or the above pictured replacement for the classic—and conceptually bizarre, because what the hell, a gun?—starter pistol:

Among the many Winter Olympics firsts at Vancouver is the use of a new all-electronic starter gun that emits a consistent sound and light. Plus, says Omega's Christophe Berthaud, it's a whole lot easier to get through airport security.

Or—and this is the most surprising bit—the raw manpower it takes to time the Olympics now, versus the good old days:

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.

I'm partial to the classic classic method, by which competitors judged their own finishing times, got in fights about who finished first, and settled the dispute like real athletes: On the floor of the coliseum, with improvised weapons, while running from recently imported, still very disoriented exotic animals. Athletes these day! [CNET]