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The evolution of technology at the Olympics

The modern day Olympics began in 1896 and within a decade golf had been introduced and then revoked. It only ever featured at Paris 1900 and St Louis 1904 before being removed from the sporting schedule for many generations. Canadian George Lyon was the last competitor to win an Olympic gold medal for golf.

Now, 112 years since golfers last teed off on the Olympic stage, it has returned. It joins a list of sports added to the schedule in recent years. Beach volleyball and rugby sevens have been added while softball and baseball have been taken away. New sports for 2020 could include surfing and climbing. In the era of the modern games many sports have come and gone as trends have changed.

Smarter applications

Atos’ own history at the Olympics stems from its preparations for Barcelona 1992. It has been Worldwide IT Partner for the global spectacle since 2001. Each Summer and Winter Olympic Games, starting with Salt Lake City in 2002 brings a new challenge in terms of technological input. Like the athletes, Atos technologists begin their work years in advance.

At Athens 2004, we managed a consortium of technology partners and suppliers to offer audiences instant connectivity and access to all data from the disciplines of 10,500 athletes in 28 different sports. Our teams installed and managed the IT infrastructure and systems for a main technology centre, an integration test lab, a PC factory and several data centres used for primary storage and back-up recovery if there was a failure in the system. It was a network protected by the best security measures of the time across all Olympic venues in and around Athens.

Record-breaking is not only for athletes on the track or field. During Beijing 2008, when 43 world records and 132 Olympic records were broken by competitors, our Atos teams achieved their own personal bests. We handled 70 per cent more accreditations than for any other games in history and securely processed 80 per cent more competition data for media and news agencies worldwide – 1.5 million messages. We also enabled 500 stories to be published per day on the Olympic News Service and populated the Commentator Information System (CIS) so broadcasters would have as much detailed and real-time information as possible to inform the global broadcast audience. Internally, Atos also supported Beijing 2008’s intranet and filtered 12 million security events daily. All security risks were detected and resolved with zero impact on the games.

Atos’ adaptation has continued through Vancouver 2010, London 2012 and Sochi 2014, three regions of the world with contrasting demands. We must have an understanding of local limitations and opportunities, while maintaining the global outlook that is necessary. We’re proud to bring the games to billions of people globally while also achieving key International Olympic Committee (IOC) targets. One of these has been to allow the games to become greener. Atos was recognised for its games related sustainability technology innovations and commitment to the environment with an award from the Vancouver Organising Committee (VANOC).

A must-see event

In the days of George Lyon the only way to see the Olympics live was to actually be present in the games arena. In 1900, the Olympics was part of the World’s Fair and was open to an estimated audience of 48 million visitors and was spread over five months. In contrast, London 2012 had an audience of 4.8 billion people over the course of 16 days.

The first major milestone for technology was passed at Paris 1924, when radio listeners could tune in to hear the Olympics action live. Then, Berlin 1936 marked the first live television broadcast of a sports event in world history. The footage was transmitted to viewing stations in the greater Berlin area by two German firms, Telefunken and Fernseh. Post-war marked a period of steady change in how audiences experienced the games, with television streams directly into the homes of those lucky enough to own a television from London 1948.

This year marks nearly a century of technology’s impact on the Olympic Games. The maturity of mobile technology will result in the largest global audience in history experiencing the games live online. At Atos, we have a responsibility to make these connections virtually faultless from our end, and we’re proud to be in a position to facilitate the enjoyment of others around the globe as individuals and nations share memorable moments and record-breaking human achievements. Rio 2016 will be, and can be, a must-see event.

Lessons to be shared

We have worked closely with the IOC to turn the Olympic Games into one of the most watched, connected and digitally enabled experiences on the planet. This mirrors the globalisation of business that we are used to dealing with every day. IT infrastructure for any business must be secure, fast and understood by the end user – the same parameters we use for the Olympics and Paralympic Games. We are implementing new digital models for some of the largest businesses, in finance, telecommunications, media and the public sector. We think globally, and have 100,000 people on hand to support any event or business milestone.

Patrick Adiba, Group Executive Vice President - Chief Commercial Officer and CEO for the Olympic and Paralympic Games

Image Credit: Getty Images

Read the first article in our series: Rio Olympic Games: Practice for performance on the global stage