With its focus on split-second times, the worlds of professional sports and watchmaking have a long history together. With all eyes on Tokyo, we take a look at how some of the world’s best Olympic athletes keep an eye on the time…
August 08, 2021
When it comes to gold, split-second timing is everything
If you want to know the value of time, allow it to slip through your fingers. If you want to understand the full power of its destiny-altering potential, look to the scoreboards of the Toyko 2020 Olympic Games. The difference between 100-metre sprinter Elaine Thomson-Herah’s history-making gold medal and the time achieved by the woman in fourth place was less than half a second. The time difference between Caeleb Dressel, the100-metre butterfly swim world-record winner and the athlete in second place is equally miniscule, a measure of time so tiny that it is almost meaningless to most people on the planet. And yet they are so incredibly crucial to the men and women who represent the pinnacle of human athletic achievement that their entire careers revolve around making performance improvements that are measured in fractions of a second
Measuring these precious milliseconds at such an elite level naturally attracts similarly rigorous timekeepers, each keen to align its own prowess in measuring an athlete’s greatest measure of success: the time in which they cross the finishing line.
The level of accuracy in today’s top-end timepieces is formidable, underscoring that in today’s world of athletics, it’s milliseconds that make or break a podium finisher. For example, the underwater touchpads used in the 2016 Olympics were able to discern 0.01 of a second difference between the finishing times of swimmers Michael Phelps and Milorad Cavic. The former became a household name and an Olympic record holder with a time of 50.58 seconds, one of the most hair-splitting leads ever measured in professional sports.
Professional sports has always attracted top-end watchmakers eager to be associated with exceptional athletes through partnerships and sponsorships. Indeed, it seems almost impossible to think of any professional team or event that doesn’t have a watch brand associated with it. The Olympics is no different, and many of the men and women taking part are sponsored by watch brands.
“As athletes, we’re always watching the time … counting the seconds … the hundredths of a second!” track and field star Dina Asher-Smith told the New York Times; the British athlete, who sadly had to pull out of her 100m sprint due to injury, wears an Hublot Classic Fusion Titanium on her wrist.
South African Olympian Wayde van Niekerk, the defending 400-metre Olympic champion and world record holder unfortunately didn’t make the finals this time round after finishing fifth in the third semi-final, his performance the result of a series of injury setbacks.
“Time means progress for me,” says the sprinter who has been an ambassador for Richard Mille since 2016, the year in which, aged just 24, he won a gold medal for the men’s 400m with a world-record time of 43.03 seconds. Van Niekerk wears the RM 67-02 Automatic Sprint, which weighs just 32 grams thanks to its combination of proprietary carbon-fibre composites. Richard Mille has adapted this timepiece to several sporting disciplines; the sprinter’s version comes in the colours of his native South Africa.
Meanwhile, not all timepieces worn by athletes follow a predictably ‘sporty’ aesthetic. Croatian tennis player Donna Vekic is an ambassador for haute horlogerie brand F.P Journe and wears an Elegante on court complete with diamonds encircling the bezel. Fellow tennis player Naomi Osaka, who was defeated in her third-round match, wears a TAG Heuer Aquaracer. Meanwhile, when he’s not on court, Russian Daniil Medvedev likes to sport a Bovet Fleurier Récital 26 Brainstorm Chapter Two on his wrist.
While some of these watches – along with their wearers’ staggering sporting achievements – may be outside the realms of possibility for us mere mortals, at Ahmed Seddiqi and Sons, an expertly curated collection of timepieces includes accessibly priced watches with Olympics-worthy time-measuring accuracy.