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The watches that athletes wore at the Tokyo Olympics

Tokyo 2020 wasn’t just about sporting excellence. It was also about fantastic watches

US sprinter Noah Lyles wearing his Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra Ultra-Light.
US sprinter Noah Lyles wearing his Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra Ultra-Light. (Getty Images)

The global #watchfam is a curious bunch. The community’s dedication to wristwatches is such that when the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics finally got underway, their focus remained on watches. This time around, on watches worn by athletes. And, over the 17 days of the Games, the watch community was rewarded with glimpses of some spectacular timepieces.

Now, I am more accustomed to team sports like football, where athletes are not allowed to wear anything extraneous (since team sports are also often contact sports). So I did do a few double takes while watching track and field athletes competing with pieces of high horology strapped to their wrists. But after the initial shock had worn off, it seemed only natural. After all, a sports watch would look best on a sportsman, I mean it’s in the name right? And the eagle-eyed watch community had their eyes peeled to identify the watches down to the exact models. So I often went back and watched re-runs, as god-like athletes did god-like things with god-like watches that your average watch collector would baby.

Also Read: Six great sports watches for every budget

One manufacture that seemed to be all over the Olympics was Richard Mille. Yes, there were plenty of Omegas on view too, as you’d expect from the official Olympics timekeeper, but more on that later. In the 20 years since genius watch designer Richard Mille founded his own luxury brand, the brand’s distinctive skeletonised watches in tonneau-shaped cases have become something of a celebrity flex. You can see them on the wrists of the likes of David Beckham, Rafael Nadal, Jay Z, Drake, Ed Sheeran, and by now Richard Mille and canny marketing are synomymous.

But I hadn’t realised the sheer number of athletes that are brand ambassadors for the brand. Ukrainian high-jumper Yulia Levchenko, golf gold medallist Nelly Korda, heptathletes Maria Vicente of Spain and Nafissatou Thiam of Belgium, and that’s just scratching the surface. Nearly all of them were wearing the RM 007, mostly in titanium. Now Richard Mille watches aren’t cheap (the price of an RM 007 in titanium would start from 8 lakh), but on this evidence, they’re extremely hardy as well. And finally, an RM was featured in one of the most iconic images of the Games, when Qatar’s Mutaz Essa Barshim and Italy’s Gianmarco Tamberi joyfully embraced after deciding to share the high jump gold. On Barshim’s left wrist, very prominently, was an RM67-02 done up in the colours of the Qatari flag.

Mutaz Essa Barshim wearing his Richard Mille RM 67-02.
Mutaz Essa Barshim wearing his Richard Mille RM 67-02. (Getty Images)

Omega has been the official timekeeper at the Olympics since the Los Angeles Games in 1932. The brand unveils a slate of Olympic specials at every Games, and this year was no different, with Omega releasing a Seamaster Professional and a Seamaster Planet Ocean, along with Seamaster Aqua Terras in 38mm and 41mm. It also released the Omega Seamaster Olympic Official Timekeeper, a limited-edition box set. While the latter was spotted on the wrist of International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, the one gracing the wrists of athletes was a different Aqua Terra. This was the beautiful green dial Aqua Terra Ultra-Light, made from titanium and meant specifically for athletes. Released in 2019, it was spotted on the right wrist of sprinter Noah Lyles of the USA, as he steamed to a 200m bronze. You might have also noticed it on the wrist of American athlete Dalilah Muhammad as she helped USA win the gold in the 4x400m relay. Irish golf star Rory McIlroy, who helped design the Ultra-Light, also wore it for his matches. The timepiece looked absolutely amazing on Sweden’s Armand Duplantis as he soared to a pole vault gold and also smashed the world record in the process.

Also Read: Rolex, Mt Everest and the rise of GADA watches

Olympics wristchecks would be incomplete without spotting the ultimate sport watch line: the G-Shock. And yes, there were those, most memorably the clear plastic DW-5600SKE-7 on the wrist of windsurfer Kiran Badloe of the Netherlands, as he hugged the Dutch flag after winning gold. At all of $110, this is a G-Shock icon. You could also spot the G-Shock GA-1100-2A on the wrist of the winner of men’s gold in archery, Mete Gazoz of Turkey. Some keen watch-spotters even located a much more expensive G-Shock, the MR-G, on the wrist of the Serbian women’s volleyball team coach Zoran Terzic.

Kiran Badloe wearing the G-Shock DW-5600SKE-7.
Kiran Badloe wearing the G-Shock DW-5600SKE-7. (Getty Images)

And then there was Rolex. Golfer Lydia Ko of New Zealand was wearing a stunning Rolex Yacht-Master ref. 126655 while being presented with her bronze medal. Devin Brooker of the US men’s basketball team bit on his gold medal while flexing a GMT-Master II ‘Pepsi’. Meanwhile, Brooker’s teammate Draymond Green was spotted wearing both the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Black Panther Flying Tourbillon as well as a white ceramic Royal Oak Perpetual Calendar during the medal presentation. Swiss tennis star Belinda Bencic, a Rolex ambassador, wore a two-tone Rolex Daytona while celebrating the women’s doubles silver with her teammate Viktorija Golubic. Meanwhile, American shooter Kayla Browning looked badass with a diamond-set Rolex Datejust on her wrist and a cocked rifle on her shoulder.

There were Tag Heuers a plenty too, not surprising given the brand’s association with sports. Sandro Sunko of Croatia’s men’s water polo team was sporting a TAG Heuer Carrera Calibre 01, while golfer Tommy Fleetwood of Great Britain wore a TAG Heuer Connected Golf Edition. US sprinter Sydney McLaughlin (pictured above) became the first woman to run the 400m hurdles under 52 seconds while rocking a fantastic looking black TAG Heuer Link. The coolest of the lot, though, was the US sprinter Cravon Gillespie, who competed while wearing a cheap, but classic, Casio calculator watch.

So there you have it. After Tokyo 2020, “watching” sports has now taken on a totally different meaning for me. So here’s to more spectacular sporting achievements and moments of sportsmanship, and great watches!

Handwound is a fortnightly column on watches and watchmaking.

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