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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
Olympic technology in 2012
With 107 'technology-supported venues' (combining competition and non-competition locations), the 2012 Olympic Games is the world's largest sporting event. As an IT project, it's equivalent to creating a large, fast-growing, multi-site enterprise in a relatively short period of time: discussions with LOCOG began towards the end of 2008, and a mission-critical period of intense activity is scheduled for July and August 2012.
The Games could not take place without its IT infrastructure functioning reliably, and the 27 July start date is an immovable deadline. That adds up to plenty of pressure on Atos Origin (applications and technology integration), Acer (hardware) and LOCOG's other technology partners including Airwave (radio systems), BT (fixed network, mobile network and telephony), Cisco (network infrastructure), Omega (timing and scoring systems), Panasonic (audio-visual, TV and video) and Samsung (mobile communications equipment).
Acer, which has the advantage of experience in providing hardware for the smaller-scale 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, expects to provide some 11,500 desktop PCs (running Windows 7), 1,100 notebooks and 900 servers for the 2012 Games, all tended by around 350 engineers. This IT infrastructure will handle standard back-office tasks like finance, HR and CRM, as well as Games-related duties such as co-ordinating timings, results and the Commentator Information System (CIS).
Much store is set by the small-footprint, low-power nature of the standard Veriton L670G desktop (inset, above), which promotes both logistic and energy efficiency. Some trends, such as the rise in popularity of tablets, were not foreseen at the start of the project, but Acer now expects significant numbers of its tablets to be employed as well.
Michael Trainor, service project manager for the Acer Olympic Project, said: "We've probably completed around 98 percent of our requirement overall", leaving various ad hoc hardware requirements from LOCOG to service over the next four to five months. What remains, though, is testing and more testing, to ensure that nothing goes wrong at 'games-time'.
Main photo credit: Charles McLellan
Integration test lab
Integration Test Lab
One major part of LOCOG's IT infrastructure that will have completed its work come 'Games-time' is the Integration Test Lab (ITL). In this Canary Wharf location, some 800 PCs and 130 tower-format servers (mostly Gateway GT350F1 systems) are grouped into event-related 'cells' devoted to many thousands of hours of tests of timing, results and information systems.
Much of the current activity involves 'test events' — which can be proper championships, invitation events or desk-based simulations — where the relevant ITL cell equipment is packed up and shipped to the venue (unless it's a simulation), and then returned for post-event review. As of early December, 20 test events have been completed, from a total of about 40. Once technical rehearsals are complete, the equipment will be relocated to the event venues and the ITL will fall silent.
Acer's Trainor was keen to point out that "this is not a new technology showcase for us": the most important factor is that the hardware infrastructure is solid, reliable and has been thoroughly tested — by Atos and LOCOG, as well as Acer itself. To counter potential problems, every cell's 'games' server has a mirror, with a 'cold spare' as further insurance.
Photo credit: Charles McLellan