Specialty Cameras Bring Fans Closer Than Ever to Olympic Gold

The newest camera technology in action at the Olympic Games is helmet cameras that are being used at Cypress Mountain, home of events like snowboard cross, skiing cross, parallel grand slalom, aerial skiing, and snowboard half pipe. The cameras were especially useful during the cross events, giving viewers at home a first-person view from the track as competitors raced to the bottom.

The challenge for Olympic Broadcast Services (OBS), provider of the host broadcast feed for the Games, was finding a system that would not compromise the athlete’s performance, considering that going for gold is often the highlight of an athlete’s career.

“The last thing you want is having an athlete fall and blame the camera, so we worked in concert with the federation,” says John Pearce, Olympic Broadcast Services (OBS) manager of specialty equipment.

From a physical standpoint, the system needed to be as small as possible and Pearce and OBS began working with UK-based specialty camera provider Camera Corps. Step one was to physically separate and miniaturize the camera electronics and place most of the guts of the camera and the power source into a beltpack.

But following a test with athletes in Telluride, CO, even more streamlining of components was required as athletes were concerned that it could cause injury if they fell on it. Later that night, Camera Corps and the OBS team took apart the small box that contained the transmitter and battery components and realized that they could be placed next to each other in a belt instead of on top of each other. The result is a belt that weights 60 grams and is 2.5 inches tall and only .75 inches centimeters thick. “Most of the belt is batteries to make sure they last long enough for the competition,” says Pearce.

Multiple antennas were placed along the course and the signal was fed back to the production compound via single mode fiber where diversity receivers would use the most stable signal before passing it to the production truck.

Heavenly Angles

Shots from above have become ubiquitous at this year’s Winter Games, as seven aerial cabled camera systems, two helicopters, and even two tethered blimps have gotten into the action to give fans fascinating new perspectives for everything from snowboard and skiing cross to cross country skiing and biathlon, downhill skiing, and more.

Cypress Mountain, for example, featured a cable camera system from Camcat for the moguls and a cable camera system from Aerial Camera Systems (ACS) France for the snowboard cross competition.

“We spent a year putting the Camcat system for the moguls together for a two-day competition, but I was blown away by the coverage,” says Pearce. Cineflex gyrostabilized heads played a key role in getting steady, clear shots. “Their heads can get a very stable shot using a 42-times [magnification] lens despite a huge amount of vibration,” adds Pearce.

The Nordic Centre features two ACS France cabled camera systems that are running over 354 meters at cross country and 454 meters at biathlon. Due to the lengths of the runs, semi-permanent towers were constructed and more than 2,000 kilograms of tension were applied to the cables to ensure proper operation. As for the camera systems themselves, they include a compact gyrostabilized open mount head with a Thomson LDK6000 WorldCam and a Fujinon 22×7.8 lens.

Lastly, there were railcam camera systems, provided by Aerial Camera Systems UK. The biathlon, for example, features a curved rail cam that leads up the hill into the final lap. “It’s great for showing the athletes powering towards the finish line and a lot of the action,” says Pearce. “It places the coverage in the center of the stadium which is a new angle for biathlons.”

ACS UK also supplied railcam systems for ski jumping, the sliding center, and one for speed skating that relies on magnetic levitation, thanks to a magnetized track. “That system gets to such high speeds that it needs a long area to stop,” says Pearce.