Technology and the Olympics: 2012 vs 1948

Technology and the Olympics: 2012 vs 1948

Summary: The 2012 London Olympics are approaching fast, and computer technology is absolutely critical to their success — unlike the last time the capital hosted the Games. Here is a tour of the Olympic Park and some of the back-end systems


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  • Empire Stadium

    Empire Stadium, Wembley, 1948
    No new venues were built for 1948's Austerity Games — not even an Olympic Village for the athletes, who were housed in RAF camps (if male) and London colleges (if female). Athletes had to bring their own food, and travelled to and from the event venues on ordinary London buses.

    The centrepiece of the games was the 1923 Empire Stadium, famous for its 'Twin Towers', which was demolished in 2003 to make way for the current Wembley Stadium. This image shows British athlete John Mark carrying the Olympic flame past Organising Committee members at the opening ceremony.

    Photo credit: IOC

  • London Olympics velodrome

    Almost ready...
    The Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) is the public body responsible for building the new venues for the 2012 Games, as well as upgrading existing venues, delivering supporting infrastructure (including transport) and converting the Olympic Park for 'legacy' use after 'games-time'.

    Although there's plenty of construction still going on, the ODA has completed much of the necessary work, including: the Olympic Stadium, the Aquatics Centre, the Velodrome (pictured), the IBC/MPC (International Broadcast Centre/Main Press Centre), the Handball and Basketball Arenas, and the Lee Valley White Water Centre (see for more details).

    Photo credit: Charles McLellan 

  • 1948 photo finish

    Olympic technology in 1948
    The BBC's on-site Broadcasting Centre in 1948 was housed in the Palace of Arts, one of three now-demolished main buildings constructed for the 1924 British Empire Exhibition (the other palaces were Industry and Engineering). The 1948 Games were the first to be shown on home television, with an official audience of just 500,000 within the British Isles.

    Among the technological innovations used by the BBC for televising the Austerity Games were CPS (Cathode Potential Stabilisation) Emitron cameras, which delivered a clearer image than previous CRT-based video cameras. The 1948 Games also saw the first use of a mobile television control room, for covering events at the Empire Pool (now the Wembley Arena).

    As far as the all-important timing of events was concerned, things had moved on from the days when judges supplied their own stopwatches and did duty as timekeepers. Official automatic timing was first introduced at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles, courtesy of Omega and 30 pocket watch-sized counters and chronographs.

    Omega used a new timekeeping system built around photoelectric cells in the 1948 Games, which also saw the first photo-finish technology, made by the London-based Race Finish Recording Company. Shown here is a photo-finish of the 100m final, in which Harrison Dillard (US) was awarded the gold medal.

    Photo credit: Press Association

Topics: Servers, Reviews, Olympics 2012


Charles has been in tech publishing since the late 1980s, starting with Reed's Practical Computing, then moving to Ziff-Davis to help launch the UK version of PC Magazine in 1992. ZDNet came looking for a Reviews Editor in 2000, and he's been here ever since.

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