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Technology: Rio Olympics set to be the most technologically advanced Games ever

The Rio Olympics are set to be remembered as the most technologically advanced Games ever. Tom Walker looks at the innovation

by Tom Walker, Leisure Media | Published in Sports Management Aug 2016 issue 125
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The lap counters will aid swimmers in keeping track of their progress
The lap counters will aid swimmers in keeping track of their progress

It totally changes the experience for the audience," says Sebastián Cuattrin, rowing manager of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. "It will make it possible to see the different tactics being used by different teams, in particular when there is a change of speed."

Cuattrin is describing the technology which will help fans follow the canoe and rowing events at the Rio Games in more detail than ever before. Thanks to GPS devices attached to each vessel, spectators will be able to see a number of key data – such as speed, direction and changes in tempo – while watching the live action.

The GPS-based system is just one of the innovations at Rio designed to enhance the Olympic experience for athletes, officials and both live and TV spectators. From improving the way competitions are officiated to making paying for refreshments easier for fans, Rio will be bursting with new tech.

SPORTS
The Games will be the first Olympics during which full video review systems will be used in a sport. Volleyball players will be able to – if unhappy with a referee’s call – challenge a decision and refer it to a second video operating official, who will use television footage to verify any challenged points.

Replays of the review will be shown in real time on the arena screens while the challenge is studied – which will no doubt add to the drama for the fans (and the blushes of the referee, if the call is reversed). "The crowd will be waiting with bated breath," says Cristiana Figueira, manager of volleyball at the Rio 2016 organising committee. "We are expecting a lot of booing and applause and the reviews will be in use for both volleyball and beach volleyball”.

Technology will also ensure fair play in taekwondo, where special sensors will be placed in athletes’ headgear for the first time. The idea is to minimise the chances of refereeing errors, as blows to the head are worth three times more than blows to the torso – and so often decide contests.

“New technology has given transparency to the sport,” says Phillippe Bouedo, technical delegate of the World Taekwondo Federation. “In London, we had sensors into the vests, but not the headgear. In Rio, for the first time in the history of the Games, we will have both.”

Meanwhile, in the Rio pools, swimmers will have one thing less to worry about during their performances thanks to technology. Digital lap counters, supplied by Swiss watchmaker and timing specialist Omega, will be installed and used during the long distance 800m and 1500m freestyle events.

It is not uncommon for distance swimmers to lose track of their lap count – even in elite competitions – so the devices will help by automatically updating the lap count each time a swimmer hits the touchpad on the wall at the end of each lane.

Eduardo Gayotto, swimming manager at Rio 2016, says the counters were first installed at a test event at the Aquatics Centre in May. “The counters mean that athletes can focus more on their own performance,” he says.

“As soon as they turn they can see how much they have swum."

Other sports to feature technological first at Rio include archery, where a new electronic scoring system will replace the ancient tradition of a referee deciding the score. The targets are now based on a high-technology sensor system, which – as well as being 100 per cent accurate – will transform the spectator experience of the sport by removing the long delay to find out the score of each arrow.

"When the arrow hits the target, the system shows the score on the big screen immediately," says Rio 2016 archery manager Luiz Eduardo Almeida. "It is extremely accurate and much, much faster than waiting for a referee to examine the hit and then give out the result."

The new system, also supplied by Omega, identifies the exact point of the arrow in the target within an accuracy of 0.2mm, much more precise than the human eye could ever be capable of. The score is displayed on the screen in less than one second after the arrow hits the target.

BROADCASTING
Advances made in virtual reality (VR) technology since the London 2012 Games mean that the Rio Games will be the first to feature VR transmissions. Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS), the organisation responsible for sending out the official video feed to national broadcasters, will use Super-Hi Vision 8K video to record the opening and closing ceremonies in VR. It will also broadcast one event per day in VR.  

Some broadcasters will be making full use of the opportunity. US-based NBC has already  promised to use the feed to broadcast 85 hours of Olympic action in VR, making events available for the Samsung Gear VR headset through its NBC Sports app.

Yiannis Exarchos, OBS chief executive, said: “VR technology carries incredible potential for the sport broadcast industry, offering a truly immersive user experience. It has the power to enable hundreds of millions of people around the world to have a real sense of presence and participation.”

ALTERNATIVE GAMES
At Rio, technological innovation won’t be limited to the action within the sporting arenas either. During the Games, a partnership initiative between the Rio 2016 Organising Committee and Israel-based Hype Foundation will see eight start-ups compete in the first ever Global Sports Technology Competition.

The aim of the competition has been to uncover the best sports technology innovations from around the globe. The competition has seen the initial group of 60 sports technology startups – which showcased their sports-based innovations to panels of elite judges – sized down to the eight finalists, who will now compete for a €100,000 grand prize.

Rio will also push the boundaries of what sport actually is. An international gaming tournament is set to take place alongside the Games, featuring mixed-sex squads of professional video gamers to play in tournaments held in large venues.

The competition, organised by the recently established International eGames Committee (IEGC), will be the first of a programme of tournaments planned to take place in Olympic years in the host cities – with future tournaments planned for Pyeongchang in 2018 and Tokyo in 2020.

Wear your credit

Payment company Visa, in partnership with Brazilian bank Bradesco, will introduce a next generation bracelet which visitors to Rio 2016 can use like a contactless payment card to purchase goods and services. The bracelet uses Near Field Communications (NFC) technology to enable transactions and all 4,000 point-of-sale terminals at Olympic venues will be equipped to work with NFC.

As well as the new bracelet, Visa is also introducing a payment ring backed by a Visa account (pictured). The ring will be given to all of the 45 athletes sponsored by the company at the Games. The ring does not require use of a battery or recharging and is also water resistant to a depth of 50 metres.

Visa is also introducing a payment ring backed by a Visa account
Visa is also introducing a payment ring backed by a Visa account
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