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A look at how Seiko triggered a technological revolution in athletics in 1964

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When the Olympic Games were awarded to Japan to be held in 1964, the island state knew that this would be their best chance to help change the international community’s opinion of the country. Indeed, Japan’s global image had, quite rightly, suffered badly following the country’s role in World War 2. The 1964 Olympics, however, would provide the nation with the ideal chance to change that by reaching out to the rest of the world and offering a hand of friendship.

We know now that even before the Olympics concluded in Tokyo, the world extended its hand back to Japan, and reconciliation was achieved in one of the most spine-tingling moments in sporting history.

Yes, over that month in October 1964, Japan was able to showcase itself as a democratic nation that was promising to abide by international law, but it was also the leaps in technology that the country introduced to the world that made people sit up and take notice.

Indeed, Japanese watchmaker Seiko carried the flag and spearheaded the image makeover by launching its brand-new electronic automated timing system with a photo-finish mechanism before the start of the Olympics; the results were unlike anything anyone had ever seen. In short, this improved accuracy to 1/100th of a second which was the biggest breakthrough in technology that athletics had ever witnessed.

Essentially, you could say that Japan’s desire to be accepted by the world again by building a new legacy ended up sparking a revolution in technology that continues to gain momentum on both track and field, 58 years later.

Indeed, 1980 would see the next big development with the introduction of RFID timing which, in essence, helped register times at various antenna positions on the track. There were small tweaks here and there following that until 2008 when a tectonic change was to take place again after photo finishes became an exact science as cameras were now able to capture 3,000 photos per second. Basically, there could no longer be any doubt about who won.

Thereafter, attention began to turn to improving apparel with a focus on closer monitoring of stats in order to drive peak performance. This was achieved in 2012 with sensors now able to track an athlete’s heart rate and speed. The real game changer came four years later in 2016 when apparel was designed to remove sweat from the body by evaporation instead of absorbing it.

Looking back, it has been an extraordinary journey that is hard to put into words or even draw a good-enough example with. Perhaps we can try by looking at the betting industry that enjoys a connection to athletics today and focus on the bookmakers of yesteryear who would keep records with paper and pencil whilst only providing extremely limited offerings in a brick-and-mortar shop.

Then came along the internet to move the industry forward by taking it from the high street to the World Wide Web in 1996. Today, companies like Sportingtech have revolutionized the market altogether by providing betting operators with the latest online sports betting solutions, including in-play betting. They’ve spent years making this a smooth operation in order for punters to enjoy all the benefits of a live fixture that ebbs and flows before placing a bet.

In reality, it takes a small step to begin transformation on this scale and we saw that in 1964 when the Japanese state and one of its trail-blazing companies teamed up to present the world with a piece of technology they were yet to see. The results were seismic in both athletics and international relations and can still be felt today.

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