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Swiss keep time at Turin Winter Games

The chief of timing at the Winter Olympic Games, Switzerland's Francesco de Rose, tells swissinfo about the challenges of his tasks.

His company, Swiss Timing, is a subsidiary of the world’s leading watchmaker, Swatch Group, and specialises in timekeeping and displaying result tables.

For de Rose the Winter Games began more than three years before the opening ceremony in Turin.

The first operational discussions with the International Olympic Committee took place while Swiss Timing was involved in timekeeping the 2004 Athens Summer Games.

Since Swiss Timing got the mandate for Turin, 220 tons of material, including 100 kilometres of optic fibre or telephone cable, were transported from Switzerland to northern Italy.

There are 208 timing officers on the spot at the seven sites of the Olympics in Turin, Sestriere, Bardonecchia, Pragelato, Cesana, Pinerolo and Sauze d’Oulx.

De Rose, 41, is an electrical engineer by trade and later trained in computer technology and management. He has worked for the Swatch Group for 17 years.

swissinfo: Do you sleep well during the Games?

Francesco de Rose: It is a stressful job and the adrenaline levels skyrocket, but I still manage to sleep. With projects of this kind a lot depends on how well you have prepared for the event.

We ran final tests on all the equipment in place during the days ahead of the opening of the Turin Games. Everything worked fine in this crucial phase.

swissinfo: What are the main challenges once the competitions are underway?

F.d.R.: The first competitions come at the end of a project which lasts three-and-a-half years. Still I can assure you the tension is on at least during the first few days. The beginning is always key for us and it sets the tone for the rest of the Games.

All our technicians are very experienced people. They are used to working in such stressful conditions which come with a major event.

In our business we must not make any mistakes. It’s simply not possible and not allowed. All the necessary equipment and other technical means are at our disposal to ensure that nothing goes wrong.

swissinfo: But are you not worried that a major problem could paralyse the system?

F.d.R.: The necessary precautions are in place to avoid a complete blackout. We use several timing systems which work independently – sometimes they are not even compatible.

On top of that there are also people who measure the time manually, depending on the type of competition and the regulations.

swissinfo: Are certain disciplines more demanding to time than others?

F.d.R.: Skeleton for instance or long-distance speed skating are disciplines where you need to be able to measure a thousandth of a second. Therefore the technology has to be very state of the art.

swissinfo: Swiss Timing has been involved with timing sport events for a while. Do you think the athletes and the federations trust you?

F.d.R.: We know each other and there is a relationship based on trust. But as a company we have to make sure that we are always on top of things. We’re always testing and trying new products.

You have to bear in mind that it took some getting used to the timing systems both for the athletes and the federations.

swissinfo: Do you experience the Games just as an expert on timing or can you actually enjoy the competitions?

F.d.R.: Once everything is ready and provided we get off to a good start I can focus on the work and enjoy the competitions at the same time.

I’m a great sport fan and I will visit every sport site at the Olympics. Of course I will also follow how the Swiss are doing.

swissinfo: What memories do you have of your first Olympic Games in Atlanta in the summer of 1996?

F.d.R.: The heat! And of course the general atmosphere, our group spirit and some small problems to solve…

swissinfo: Ten years on you are in charge of the technical project of Swiss Timing at the Olympics for the first time. You will also be in Beijing in 2008 and Vancouver in 2010. Was this your professional ambition?

F.d.R.: It just happened like that. In this job, like in many others, it is best if you can go through all the different stages before you manage a whole project.

Initially I was involved in timing. I then moved on to manage increasingly difficult projects.

It’s true that I always wanted to be in charge of timing at a major sport event, such as Olympic Games.

swissinfo-interview: Mathias Froidevaux in Sestriere

Swiss Timing, an affiliate of the Swatch Group, was founded in 1972. It is the world leader in timing sport.

Its headquarters are in Corgémont, a village in northwestern Switzerland. It has a workforce of just over 100 people.

Swiss Timing has timed 22 Olympic Games so far. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has granted the company contracts for Beijing in 2008 and Vancouver in 2010.

Under the deal with the IOC Swiss Timing has to pay to be the official timekeeper, but is compensated for the work. The Swatch Group says it spends about SFr10 million ($7.6 million) on the Olympics but gets worldwide exposure in return.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR