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A Bird’s Eye View

July 24, 2012

LONDON – Sitting on the starting line at the Olympic rowing course at Eton Dorney, the four athletes in the United States women’s quad preparing to do a practice start had no idea that they were being filmed from above their heads – way above their heads.

But not only was the boat clearly visible on the television screen in small trailer behind the start tower, all four women – Adrienne Martelli (University Place, Wash.), Kara Kohler (Clayton, Calif.), Megan Kalmoe (St. Croix Falls, Wis.) and Natalie Dell (Clearville, Pa.) were easy to see and easily identifiable.

As they started rowing and pulled away from the line, the image did not fade, in fact it moved down the course as fast as they did. Later when Dell, was shown a video of the shot she was clearly surprised. “That’s so awesome,” was her reaction.

Awesome it is and awesome it will be for rowing fans that tune in to watch the finals at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. For the first time ever at a rowing event, a camera hung from a three-cable system strung between two steel towers at either end of the course will follow the racing from start to finish.

It is part of the video production for rowing that will supplement video being shot by cameras in chase vehicles that run along the side of the course.

It’s called Camcat-Systems and it was developed by Camcat-Systems GMBH, an Austrian based company that first developed the high tech camera system to help film a documentary on St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna.

“It was used to film architectural shots going from the ground to the highest tower of the church and then also doing things like that inside,” said Oliver Schneyder, who controls the images being shot, the angles, the zoom functions, which boats are being featured.

“That was what the system was first developed for. But then, time after time, there were and more sport shots.”

Schneyder said the system has been used to film ski jumping, Formula One racing, and has been used in four previous Olympics, including Salt Lake City, Athens, Beijing and Vancouver.

At these games there are six systems in use filming events and scenes including equestrian, white water canoe and kayaking, two in the main Olympic Stadium, mountain biking, one strung across the River Thames, and rowing.

At Eton Dorney, the system is strung between two towers, each 96-meters high on a three-cable system that runs for 2400 meters over the middle of the course. At the very end of both towers the camera is positioned 85 meters over the athletes when it leaves its perch. As it moves over the course, the cable drops in height until just about halfway down the course when it reaches a point only 8 meters above the rowers.

The camera is a U.S. military camera normally used from helicopters. It is mounted on a tripod system that has wheels that run along two fixed cables and is pulled by one moving cable. Three different counter weight systems keep the camera still in winds up to 40 kilometers an hour.

“The rowing will be stopped for weather before the camera will,” Schneyder said.

The camera moves as fast as the boats racing and can get back to the start at speeds up to 70 kilometers an hour. Schneyder said he does not know what the total cost of the system is, but said the camera is worth more than $400,000 and at its lowest point can isolate the faces of the athletes.

“When I’m at the very end or the very beginning, I can zoom in to four boats places,” Schneyder said. “But at the middle, where I am eight meters’ down, I can see faces and I hope that we see some emotions, hard working faces during the races.”

Ed Moran, photos by Allision Frederick

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