In some ways the Olympics hasn’t changed in almost 3,000 years.
Since its inception in 776BC (albeit with a hiatus), the Olympic Games has seen the world’s most talented competitors vying for sport’s most coveted trophy; originally a wreath, now a gold medal. What’s more, with the origins of the Games so prominent throughout the millennia, the values of Excellence, Respect and Friendship have stood the test of time.
But our ancient Greek ancestors would struggle to recognise the magnitude of today’s iteration and the technological advancements that have projected it to a global celebration of sport, watched by an audience of over three billion people. Getting footage out to this many people is a feat in itself, even before you add the Olympic Broadcasting Services’ (OBS) use of ultra-high definition dynamic range and enhanced audio, captured by 3,600 microphones, at the Tokyo 2020 Games.
OBS also created a virtual 3D model of the sports climbing wall to introduce the Games’ newest sport, demonstrating challenges that the climbers faced and allowing for close-ups of particular sections. And who can forget the Matrix-style replays of the gymnastics? A 4K multi-camera system that simultaneously captured footage from different angles allowed for live 360º rotations of slow-motion replays.
The result? Nigh on half the world watched the Olympics and were captivated by the spectacle. This was poignant because the COVID pandemic prevented fans from travelling to the Games, so broadcast consumption was even more important.
Of course, the Games haven’t always been televised or recorded. Indeed, the first Games broadcast around the world was the 1964 Games, coincidentally also in Tokyo. A collaboration between the Japanese Government and NASA, and the use of satellite technology for the first time, meant that footage was viewed live in 40 countries. A New York Times journalist described it as ‘a triumph of electronic technology that was almost breathtaking in its implications for global communication.’
Breathtaking implications is right; broadcasting rights for the Games have risen from $1.6million in 1964 to north of $4billion for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and the Summer Games in Tokyo.
Broadcasting aside, over the years the Olympics has not only showcased the world’s most finely tuned athletes, but also its most innovative new technologies. As well as impacting the broadcasting world, the Tokyo 1964 Games was the first to use computers to record statistics and the first to use a quartz clock for timekeeping. Seiko, the Official Timekeeper, then put this technology into mass-production and later brought out the world’s first commercial quartz wristwatch.
In the 21st Century these advancements continue as fast as Usain Bolt hurtling down a 100m straight. Smart wearables that feed athlete data back to coaches so they can monitor peak fitness, sense fatigue, and reduce the risk of injury; artificial intelligence that tracks athlete performance to provide viewers with enhanced data on speed, acceleration, body angles, stride length and more; robots that deliver food and coffee; these were just some of the other new technologies in use at Tokyo 2020. Doubtless it won’t be long before these become more mainstream.