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London 1948

OMEGA was again the Official Timekeeper and had a much admired new piece of equipment up its sleeve: the photoelectric cell. Built by a three-man OMEGA team, the new technology was based on a beam of light projected across the finish line. Athletes crossing this line triggered the electronically-functioned stopwatches, making it possible for finishing times to be accurate to the nearest 1/1000th of a second.

ANECDOTE

The flying housewife from holland

When Jesse Owens won four gold medals in Berlin in 1936, she had been there under her maiden name, finishing sixth in the high jump and fifth with the Dutch 4 x 100 m relay team. Twelve years, one wedding, two children and a dozen world records later, Fanny Blankers-Koen (1918 – 2004) stood in the spotlight her - self, equalling Owens’ record and becoming the most successful female athlete of the 20th century. The “flying housewife” from Holland was recognised as such by the IAAF half a century later. There were nine events for women in the Olympic programme. Blankers-Koen could have won more than half of them if the timetable and her husband and coach had not got in the way. She was unable to compete in the high jump due to time constraints and her husband and coach Jan advised her not to enter the long jump. A young Englishwoman called Maureen Gardner had emerged as a dangerous opponent in the 80 m hurdles.

“I was thinking about Jan’s words: ‘Concentrate on the hurdles’ all through the night before the race. I was more nervous than ever before, my knees were trembling,” she said later. It showed in the race. “After a bad start, I accelerated so quickly that I almost hit the fifth hurdle. I lost my balance and rhythm and had terrible cramp until the end of the race.”

Although the handheld stopwatches showed that Blankers-Koen and Gardner had finished in the same time (11.2 seconds), the judges correctly awarded the race to Blankers-Koen without the need to consult the finish line film.

She had already set her stall out with a convincing win in the 100 m, while her victory margin on a rain-sodden track in the 200 m was an unbelievable seven metres. Running the final leg in the relay, she led Holland from fourth to first place.

What then followed surprised her most of all. She was picked up at Amsterdam railway station by an open-topped carriage and driven through a jubilant crowd to a government reception. It seemed as though the whole of post-war Holland had been waiting for a success such as this.

Blankers-Koen also participated in the 1952 Olympic Games. Now injury-prone, she pulled out of the 200 m and abandoned the 80 m hurdles final. After 16 world records in 10 disciplines, she retired in 1955.

TECHNOLOGY

Omega revolutionises timekeeping

OMEGA’s reputation was strengthened even further at the Olympic Game in London. The photoelectric cell was nicknamed the “Magic Eye” and popular Olympic champions such as the Czech Emil Zatopek (10,000m), Jamaican Arthur Wint (400m) and Swede William Gut (modern pentathlon) asked for an explanation at how the new device worked, as did their team mates and officials from Australia and Argentina.

The timing devices were linked to the starting pistol for the first time and the athletes were now allowed to use starting blocks.


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