How Humans Kept Time At the Olympics Before Machines Did All the Work

Illustration for article titled How Humans Kept Time At the Olympics Before Machines Did All the Work

In 2009, Usain Bolt "shattered" Tyson Gay's world record in the 100-meter dash by a whopping .11 seconds. How do we know that? Because an ultra-precise, automated timekeeping machine told us so. It didn't used to be that way.


Olympic officials wisely relinquished control over the clock long ago, but once upon a time a guy held a stopwatch in his hand and started and stopped it to the best of his ability. Omega has been the official timekeeper for the Olympics since 1932, and the Olympic Pocket Watch 1932 above is a replica of the watch used that year. It keeps the regular time of day, and has a built-in stopwatch operated by the start and stop pushers on top.

The gorgeous pocket chronograph looks nothing like the big digital readouts we see in London, but don't let its old style fool you. The movement is very precise. It's just that humans suck at using it. [Omega via Christies via Business Insider]

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Harry Sawyers

I have a pocket watch that belonged to my great grandfather. Gold, American, made between 1910-1920. Valuable mostly for sentimental reasons. I always imagine him pulling it out of his pocket and setting the time.

He'd be doing that quite often—I had the guts replaced a few years back, and when I wear it on a suit vest, it needs a winding every 72 hours or so. Hard to imagine keeping it accurate.

Anyone else wear a pocket watch?