Paul Hart Written by

The Technology Behind Rio 2016

Posted on 15th August, 2016 in Digital

Rio 2016 has been underway for a week now and even Zika virus, green pool water and the athlete’s village falling apart hasn't been able to prevent the Games from being the must-watch event of the summer.

Then when the Olympics are over, we’ve got the Paralympics to look forward to and another group of talented athletes to captivate our attention.

Technology has come a long way since the first modern Olympics were held in 1896 (to think tug of war was an event until 1920!) and the 2016 Olympics has been capitalising on a lot of the latest technology. From communications to virtual reality, it’s remarkable to see how tech is changing both the way athletes compete as well as the experience for spectators. 

Social Media

This is one way the Games have changed for both athletes and spectators. While social media has been a prominent part for the past few Olympic Games, social media networks, athletes and media companies are having a more switched on and multi-network strategy than before. Despite the restrictions placed on them by the IOC, athletes still more than ever also have the opportunity to share their experience and connect with fans via social media. It is pretty cool to be able to see photos on Facebook, tweet support to your favourite athlete, and watch video stories on Instagram and Snapchat when Olympics coverage was once limited to television and newspapers. So if you’re looking to get in on some insider athlete action for the rest of the Games, we’d recommend checking out this article: 10 Olympic Athletes To Follow On Social Media To Get Your #RIO2016 Fix 


Google is the gold medal winner of search engines, and this Olympics have been no different in providing the best search service for Rio 2016. Search for terms related to the Olympics and you are likely to get Google’s own specialised search results, complete with highlights reel, sports list, schedule, tv schedule for your region, athletes, medals and country. These listings enable searchers to potentially find what they need without having to visit a website. While there is some argument that by doing this Google is robbing Olympic websites of key visitors, they are making search quicker and easier, and that is Google’s key aim. To learn more about Google’s search during the Olympics read: Let Google be your guide to Rio de Janeiro

Yes, tug of war used to be an Olympic event.


Virtual Reality
2016 has undoubtedly been the year of virtual reality becoming popular for commercial use. While it is still largely in the early adapter phase, for those in America that have the Samsung Gear VR headset, broadcaster NBC is producing Olympic VR content. Following on from their VR coverage of the Winter Youth Games in Lillehammer, Norway, it is the first time a major broadcaster has provided VR content for an Olympic Games. It is only available in the United States, but the BBC has produced some 360 content as part of its Taster Projects series. While it's not as extensive as NBC's coverage, it's still a chance to experience VR content. As VR continues to gain in popularity, we can only expect that having a VR headset will mean getting a front row seat to the action in future. For more on NBC’s VR coverage: VR at the Olympics 


With the rise of the iPhone, getting the iconic shot as a professional photographer is no longer as easy as it used to be. So agencies and photographers are turning to technology to give them the upper hand in capturing the best and most exciting images of the Games. This is where the robots come in. Getty Images is using robotic cameras underwater and overhead, as well as using 360 cameras to capture the images the spectators can’t and it’s changing the views we get from the competition. Never before have we had the opportunity to get a bird’s eye view of Simone Biles doing her balance beam routine or look at images of swimmers flying through the water overhead. Thanks to technology we can now get an unobtrusive look at the art and form of athletes during competition. To see some of the images captured by Getty Images, head to their Olympics page. Read: Getty is using underwater robots and VR to make its Rio Olympics pictures stand out for more information on the cameras Getty use.


As someone who works with data on a daily basis, it is fascinating to see how Olympic athletes and their coaches are leveraging data to improve performance. For boxing, there is the UK based iBoxer, which stores information that helps boxers and coaches analyse performance and opponents. This allows them to more efficiently refine tactics and prepare for matches on an individual basis.

In sailing, creating models based on weather conditions collected over thousands of hours helps sailors to more accurately predict what the conditions will be like for a certain race and help give them the edge over competitors who don’t use models. To find out more about data being used in other sports, read: Go for the gold: How tech is transforming Olympic training and How Rio Olympics athletes are using tech to win medals.


Some of the technology behind the gear that is being worn by Rio athletes don't seem very technological at all, until you start looking into the backstory behind them. Nike's Zoom Superfly Elite spikes is one of them. Most notably worn by Jamaican sprinter, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, the team at Nike developed them for Fraser-Pryce with 3D printing technology after conducting extensive research into how she runs the 100m. Among the many factors they analysed, they looked at her stride, where she was experiencing fatigue in the race and how she left the starting blocks. This helped them create one of the most individualised pieces of equipment at the Games. 

Wearables is another big area for gear. While cyclists can’t wear them during Olympic competition, the Solos eyewear system connects with a system of sensors and gives cyclists access to their speed, power and heart rate during training through their glasses rather than a screen attached to the handlebars. This gives cyclists the live data they need, with limited distraction, so they keep their focus but still make the adjustments they need to reach their targets. To see the gear used by Olympians in action, check out Rio Olympics 2016: How wearable tech will power Team US to golds galore


At the end of the day, it is still the elation of victory and the sting of defeat that makes the Olympics such an exciting and sometimes heartbreaking event. While the technology that has gone into these games is impressive, it is the unseen hard work, dedication and sacrifice of the athletes that is the true winner. The technology is only there to help along the way.

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