Each moment of the Games sparkles forever
Panasonic Digital VTR System
Scenes from the Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games never lose their pristine brightness
Some records don‘t appear in the official statistics.
Nevertheless, a permanent visual record does exist.
Lausanne, Switzerland, is home to the “Olympic Museum.” Here are preserved all the films from all the Olympic Games since the first Modern Olympic Games held in Athens in 1896 till the present day. The Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games was the first Games at which the many memorable moments were etched on the minds of the audience by the vivid images from a digital system. The Opening Ceremony conducted by Ryuichi Sakamoto, the lighting of the Olympic Flame by an archer, the bouquet of flowers handed to Egorova by Yuko Arimori...these moments and many more are preserved for posterity at the Olympic Museum by Panasonic's digital VTR.
In 1989 Panasonic decided to bid to provide the broadcasting equipment which would be used for the International Signal at the Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games three years later.
At that time analog VTRs, MII, formed the mainstay of Panasonic's broadcasting equipment. However, since Panasonic was a latecomer to the broadcasting industry we had not achieved the reputation we desired. It was a frustrating situation. In broadcasting equipment a company's "achievement record" is what matters more than anything else. The Panasonic team decided to stake everything on a bold and ingenious proposal for this once in a lifetime chance to make ourselves known. This was our proposal for the "D-3 Digital VTR" system which we had just developed and which nailed all the colors of "digital high image quality" to the mast.
At that time the waves of digitalization were lapping at the shores of the broadcasting industry, but the changes involved in any sweeping system replacement were no easy matter, and digital systems were still being used experimentally. However Panasonic, which had the expertise in the digital technology field, felt that the Olympic Games were the very place to publicize the superiority of our broadcasting system.
Broadcast teams from around the world touch digital equipment for the first time.
One member of the Panasonic team recalls to his mind:
"We couldn't point to any digital systems we had already installed. However, with digital, the image quality never deteriorates as the data is edited or stored, and it is easy to process the data. It can be stored in a very compact medium. In future Olympic broadcasting, digital systems would definitely become necessary."
Our proposal anticipated the future, emphasizing the beautiful screen image quality and easy-to-use aspects of a digital system.
We won the bid. The future of Olympic broadcasting and the future envisioned by Panasonic coincided. In this way, Olympic programs were produced by digital technology for the first time in the history of the Olympic Games. This innovative approach included mobile coverage using the world's first commercial digital camcorder which combined a camera and a VTR in a single unit, fiber-optic relay, and recording, editing and distribution which are all done in digital format.
Nevertheless, Olympic broadcast staff who were working in the field seemed to be reluctant to use the unfamiliar system. "First of all, to allay all worries about operating the system, we explained in detail how to use it before the Games started to the 2500 broadcast team members assembled in Barcelona from all over the world. In terms of hardware, we set up 1000 digital VTRs in the International Broadcast Center and the event sites and provided one conventional analog VTR for every two digital VTRs as a backup. To avoid any problems with clogging, we took great care to arrange for maintenance personnel to clean the head of each VTR every day after the day's program of events was over. We had more than 100 people working in three shifts 24 hours a day to provide total maintenance. Since we had to win confidence there was no other option."
Presentation was held many times.
Olympic broadcasting equipment is subjected to punishing treatment, in use for 24 hours a day without a rest, filming, editing, putting together the program after the event is over, and distributing the signal to broadcasters around the world. Still, Panasonic's team saw their efforts rewarded. There were no significant problems and the digital system's reputation grew daily. Functions unavailable with the analog equipment in use up till then, such as the ability to memorize operational set-up patterns, and to monitor operating conditions at any time, were highly praised by broadcast staff from around the world as "user-friendly."
It was however the beauty of the digital picture for which everyone unanimously reserved particular praise. The Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games were "in a different class from previous Games in terms of visual beauty." In Spain there was an endless stream of enquiries about the brightness and clearness of the picture from Spanish viewers who had just watched some event on television. An important Spanish newspaper, "La Vanguardia," in response to the size of the reaction, ran a major feature about Panasonic's digital broadcast system on August 3rd.
Barcelona's Main Olympic Stadium
10th day of the Games. In the Olympic Stadium the semi-finals of the men's 400 meters were being held. On that day as always Panasonic's digital cameras were there, capturing the athletes in action.
The starting gun fires.
Derek Redmond, who had got off to the fastest start, suddenly found himself in the middle of a nightmare. Redmond, who had come first in both heats to reach this race and was the favorite to win, suddenly lost speed in the back stretch and doubled up, obviously in pain. A torn muscle in his right leg. Seven other runners ran past him, including Susumu Takano who was hoping to be the first Japanese in 60 years to make it into a sprinting final. Redmond, left all alone on the track, pulled himself to his feet at last and, agony written all over his face, began to hobble forwards, taking his weight on his left leg.
"All that was on my mind was that I wanted to finish this race, even if it killed me."
Redmond kept going towards the finishing line, taking care not to come out of his own lane. Every excruciating step was filmed in poignant detail by the digital camera in the stadium. The film was shown in close-up on the stadium's ASTROVISION screen and the physical reality was broadcast to the watching crowds as well as to viewers in front of their televisions all over the world.
All of a sudden Redmond's father appeared at the side of his son. He had come rushing down from the stand where he had been shouting encouragement. "I didn't realize it was my dad at first. I was saying to him, 'Get me back in Lane 5. That's where I started and that's where I want to finish.'"
Before long Redmond, his face covered in tears, put his arm round the shoulder of his father who was running along beside him. Spectators in the stadium began to rise to their feet. The applause for Redmond hobbling on his left leg and his father supporting him grew to a roar.
Dramatic moments like this always come out of the blue. Derek Redmond did not set any official records for the 400 meters, but the battle he fought was recorded on Panasonic's digital VTR and imprinted for ever on the minds of those who witnessed it.
With its digital technology which "communicates emotions to the future" Panasonic captured the joys and tears of many athletes at the Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games. All the scenes were edited onto 2500 hours of digital tape and these are now preserved for posterity in the "Olympic Museum."
These memorable scenes will continue to be the human race's permanent asset in digital form which moves many people deeply.
Integrated audio visual equipment for the entire video library system at the IOC (International Olympic Committee) Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland was developed and donated by Panasonic.
* These reports were written in January 2002.