Eighty years ago, spectators in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium might have caught sight of a rather peculiar and cumbersome piece of machinery. What they were seeing was one of the world’s first television cameras.
The 1936 Berlin Olympics were the first to be televised, albeit on a limited scale. The pictures could only be seen in viewing rooms. It is estimated that 160,000 watched and the great Jesse Owens was among them.
When war broke out, television screens across Europe went dark for more than five long years but when the Games returned in 1948, so did the cameras. The broadcasts of the London Games were 12 months in the planning. The BBC paid 1000 guineas for the right to televise the Games.
"Of special interest were the television arrangements which were more complicated than for any other television outside broadcast previously attempted," said the BBC’s annual report for 1949.
The Image Orthicon, the latest state-of-the-art camera, made its debut. It produced high quality pictures but had its drawbacks.
“It was slightly awkward following subjects," said cameraman Duncan Anderson. "You got an image in colour but it was upside down and back to front so that when anybody stood up, their head would disappear out of the bottom of the viewfinder."
No technology yet existed to video tape coverage, but it could be viewed live in the home, albeit only in the south-east of England.
In 1952, American Avery Brundage became President of the International Olympic Committee and conveyed the suspicion that many had about the new medium when he said: "The Olympic Games have done perfectly well without television for the last 60 years and believe me we are going to manage for another 60 years."
His IOC colleague Lord Burghley had offered qualified support for TV but also raised concerns.
"The benefits of television are actually very problematical as past experience has proved a certain falling off at the turnstiles due to the direct effects of television," he said.
Brundage did grudgingly recognise the power of TV and reflected that 50 million viewers watched a programme with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby in aid of the United States Olympic Committee.
There was no widespread international TV coverage of the Olympics in the 1950s, but many within the Olympic Movement saw television as something to be embraced.
In 1960, the Winter Olympics were held in the Californian resort of Squaw Valley. Walt Disney was engaged as "head of pageantry" to oversee a telegenic ceremony for the television cameras. The peerless American broadcaster Walter Cronkite covered the Games.
The Rome Olympics were a significant milestone for viewers in Europe. For the first time, competition was beamed live by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU). It made international stars of the likes of Wilma Rudolph, Abebe Bikila and Muhammad Ali, then known as Cassius Clay.
"It changed the course of sports broadcasting, it was sensational," said former BBC chief Paul Fox.
American television paid approximately $400,000 for the rights although it was still not yet possible to broadcast the Games live across the continents.
That breakthrough came at the Tokyo Games in 1964, which were relayed from one continent to another. For most the pictures were still in black and white but although grainy, the images transmitted were memorable.
Mexico 1968 proved another watershed moment for Olympic television. For the first time, colour television pictures were beamed to Europe by satellite and then converted from the American system NTSC to European formats. A consortium included the American giant ABC, Mexican television, NHK from Japan and the EBU.
"It is a team effort in which everyone contributes and the success depends on everyone taking part," said officials.
Yet all the careful planning seemed in vain when the designated satellite crashed a few weeks before the Games. The technicians rapidly re-routed the pictures to another satellite receiver.
To flash the pictures across the ocean took only a third of a second. In 1968, these included a sensational world record in the long jump by American Bob Beamon.
There was also a new technique in the high jump by Dick Fosbury, still so unfamiliar that it was described as a "Fosbury Flip" by commentator Norris McWhirter.
When gymnast Olga Korbut took to the floor in Munich four years later, millions of youngsters were inspired to take up the sport because they had been able to watch on television.
Yet the most powerful images did not always come from the field of competition. In 1968, American 200 metres gold medallist Tommie Smith and John Carlos stood head bowed, fist clenched in a black power salute, after receiving his medal as the Star Spangled Banner was played.
Terrorists infiltrated the Munich Olympic Village in 1972. The world watched the terrible drama unfold. The broadcasters kept a vigil as negotiations took place in the full gaze of the television cameras.
A hastily conceived memorial service was broadcast, and the powerful words of BBC commentator David Coleman spoke for many.
‘’The whole world bewildered and appalled,’’ he said, his voice breaking with emotion as he described a ceremony in which Israel Chef de Mission Schmuel Lalkin read out the names of those who had died.
Politically motivated boycotts dominated the Olympics in the 1970s, but rights fees continued to soar. In 1979, NBC Sports executive producer Don Ohlmeyer wrote in optimistic terms about the upcoming Moscow Games.
"I have every reason to believe that the 1980 Olympic telecasts will be not only the biggest ever but the best as well," he said. "The Soviets are using many American techniques and are learning very quickly."
Except that the Games were never shown in full in the USA. Jimmy Carter’s White House enforced a boycott after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The TV company had at least taken out insurance cover.
Not for the first time, many forecast the end of the Olympic Movement, but for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, ABC paid a mind boggling $225 million. Their coverage used sophisticated software to track the progress of runners in the Marathon and even monitor their heartbeat.
"There’s no doubt that the LA Olympics will be the biggest event in the history of television," proclaimed ABC’s promotional material.
They were heavily criticised for their chauvinistic coverage which only featured American athletes.
When the organisers of the Winter Olympics in Calgary brokered a deal of $309 million for the 1988 Games with American television, many were astonished.
That same year in Seoul, the athletics finals were even switched to the morning to accommodate the demands of American television. Even so, the Korean organisers were still unhappy with the final rights fees which came in at just under $500 million.
By this time American television coverage was spearheaded by NBC. Theirs is a huge operation. At the Sochi Games in 2014, they even had a huge hotel built right next to the International Broadcast Centre, complete with burger bar and coffee shop.
In 1992, the problem of a defective satellite once more needed a complex remedy. Intelsat 603 was intended to provide pictures from Barcelona but it was necessary to launch a spacecraft to make vital repairs in outer space.
The Catalan city proved wonderfully telegenic and the search was on to find new camera angles to exploit it. At the Montjuich Stadium an automatic camera installed in the roof tracked runners in the athletics.
In the pool, underwater images were captured by a camera powered by a hand driven pulley. Technicians realised that a human hand operating the wheel was the best way for a camera to keep pace with human swimmers.
‘’Its an adventure for me," said Garrett Brown, the man who both built and operated it. "I have driven this thing 19 miles, I have participated athletically."
For the 1996 Centennial Games in Atlanta, NBC paid what was then a record $456 million to broadcast the Games.
"We are thrilled that NBC will again be home to all the drama heroes and pageantry of the Summer Olympics," said boss Dick Ebersol when the deal was struck.
The dramatic vault by an injured American gymnast Kerri Strug to win gold for her team was one of the great highlights, precisely the drama Ebersol had in mind.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, successive Olympic Organising Committees set up special organisations to televise the Games. In Korea in 1988, a consortium known as SORTO - Seoul Olympic television - produced pictures seen by the world. Computerised graphics were standardised and that is still the practice today. The international feed is now supplied by the IOC’s own television arm, the Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS).
By now Games organisers were choosing locations with television in mind. In 2000 sailing was held in Sydney harbour with the Opera House and Harbour Bridge as a spectacular backdrop. In Athens the Panathinaiko Stadium was used for archery. In 2012, the sport was held in front of the pavilion at Lord’s Cricket Ground. Cameras on overhead wires captured pictures from angles unimagined in Berlin all those years ago.
The Games have in the words of Olympic broadcasting chief executive Yiannis Exarchos become "an accelerated laboratory for exploring the new technologies that will shape the future of sports broadcasting".
In Rio, camera positions beneath the weightlifters captured every grunt and groan and a head on camera in the velodrome offered the viewer a real sense of what is was like to ride on the track. The Japanese broadcaster NHK worked with OBS to provide "8K Super High Vision" of selected events.
Virtual reality offered viewers the chance to experience live 360 degree coverage of a key event.
"It is not about viewing in a traditional sense," said OBS production manager Karen Mullins. "It is about an ‘experience’ in each venue and each sport."
Since 1976, the IOC has recognised excellence in television with the presentation of ‘’Golden Rings’’ for outstanding programmes. Gold, silver and bronze trophies are awarded in six categories, including best digital offering, best on-air promotion and best Olympic feature.
Individual television broadcasters have even been awarded the Olympic Order, amongst them the outstanding British commentator David Coleman who covered the Games for the BBC from 1960 to 2000 and his American counterpart Jim McKay.
Former NBC Supremo Ebersol was similarly rewarded. As a student he had even written a thesis on IOC President Brundage. The IOC itself now includes television executives among its membership - the most notable in recent years was Alex Gilady.
Now comes the launch of the Olympic Television Channel. The concept was agreed in Monaco as part of Agenda 2020, the long term strategy planned by IOC President Thomas Bach.
‘’It will mark a major shift in how the Olympic Movement connects with young people all year round,‘’ he said.
The Channel itself began life as the flame died in Rio.