The IAAF World Athletics Championships made history when it took its tournament to the Middle East for the first time since the inaugural event in 1983. The 10-day competition is one of the largest sporting events in the world and saw nearly 2,000 athletes from 209 countries compete. The 17th edition of the event took place at the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha, capital of Qatar, and saw some fantastic performances and record-breaking results.
For 2019 a multitude of technical innovations were introduced to the event including light shows, new camera angles and increased engagement with athletes. Florian Weber, IAAF event presentation manager, was responsible for the athletics presentation concept and challenged Creative Technology (CT) to deliver a projected track-athlete introduction which covered the entire running track, entertainment lighting, LED athlete entrances for both track and field positions, and an LED medal ceremony podium on top of the usual event presentation control and stadium relay screens.
For the track projection, it was essential that the stadium was dark which required the sports lighting to be switched off. Naturally, switching the stadium lights off during a televised stadium sports show is not something broadcasters are comfortable with, so Weber commissioned CT to deliver a VR model of the Khalifa Stadium featuring athletics apparatus, production overlay and the proposed LED screens and track projection. This was primarily to present the lights-out track projection concept to broadcasters to ensure they understood and bought into the concept, but it quickly became a key pre-production tool for the IAAF as the project took shape allowing for pre-visualisation of the entire stadium by stakeholders and sponsors. This bespoke pre-visualisation service also assisted the broadcast team with planning camera locations around the stadium and even with individual camera and lens specifications – reducing site-visit requirements and reducing overall broadcast costs.
The VR model and the easy visualisation of design changes allowed CT to work closely with the IAAF sports presentation team to plan and design the in-stadia overlay, integrating all sports, functional, presentation and broadcast elements of the event. This could then be viewed by stakeholders to assess the project and pre-visualise the whole event from all locations within the stadium and from a live broadcast perspective.
To enhance the spectator experience and give a greater focus to the finals for each athletics discipline, LED screens were installed throughout the stadium with the key placements including: the medal presentation and ceremonies stage, stadium relay screens, and athlete entry screens. CT supplied over 500 sq m of recently delivered curveable 4.8mm LED screens providing a high-resolution, high brightness solution to display all the sports presentation content including event information, live video feeds, athlete information, and live results.
CT also supplied eight mobile battery-powered LED Monoliths, a solution to field of play displays giving the athletes taking part in the field event finals the star treatment they deserved. The LED Monoliths could be positioned anywhere around the athletics arena displaying live data for athletes’ names and country flags – a world first!
Lighting was focused on occasions such as the athlete’s entrances, medal ceremonies, and every time an athlete won a tournament. CT supplied over 80 lighting fixtures which consisted of a mixture of Robe BMFL Blades, Clay Paky B-Eye K15 and Clay Paky Sharpy Plus fixtures. In addition to the lighting fixtures at the athlete’s entrance and medal ceremony stage, CT also provided lighting fixtures around the top of the stadium. These fixtures were part of the entertainment feature and added to the atmosphere of the architectural lighting of the stadium for the duration of the event.
Arguably the most impressive and talked about innovation at the championships this year was the track projection. CT used over 100 21K and 31k laser projectors to project custom content across the entire running track – bringing it to life during the finals.
The creative team worked closely with the CT team to develop the content and technical solution to deliver the vision. This was no mean feat, considering the size and varying textures of the projected surface not to mention the resolution of the content and the last-minute line-up information for the track finals.
Over a year in planning, one of the initial tests required the team to hire an athletics track close to CT’s headquarters in London Gatwick for a feasibility study, measuring the required light levels for good image visibility, and monitoring the colour of the projected image on the track surface alongside other LED display devices. The development then continued with projection tests onto samples of the actual Mondo track surface installed at the Khalifa stadium in order to look more closely at the colour qualities of the surface.
The projector placement and light levels required were then modelled in the Photon server to work out how to project a single continuous image taking into consideration the environmental and structural constraints of the stadium and other stakeholder requirements.
Camera Systems and Production
CT provided cameras and switching to ensure a seamless delivery of the sports presentation content for the stadium LED screens which included: EVS playback, custom graphics, realtime edit and playback for production highlights. In all, 24 broadcast and dedicated camera feeds were fed into the PPU and sent out via the switcher as four separate HD video outputs, each fed to the stadium control system over a Mediornet wide area network (WAN). Communication and audio feeds were also transported along with the video signals via the Mediornet WAN.
As part of the event presentation team, three editors were working round the clock to deliver content bespoke to each event final for use in the live event presentation and international broadcast. Multiple feeds and an 8-channel recorder linked on 10GB network to multiple NAS drives were supplied to three editors which enabled them to select and record the action from all the available camera feeds within the venue. In addition to this, the editing team had access to all the broadcast EVS content collected on-site via IPD Director, including that from CT’s colleagues at NEP Broadcast.
The stadium control system based around two Barco Encore switchers controlled the content to every display, with eight Watchout media servers providing 32 HD outputs for the content playback to the LED. These were also capturing 4K live data from Mercury Sports to display the digital flags and athlete names for the medal ceremony.
The projection mapping and content playback was handled by six Photon media servers.
CTs Mercury sport application interrogated and formatted the results and timing data to drive Character Works, allowing CT to deliver 13 independent scoring outputs, each capable of displaying different graphical states for 49 athletics events.
Controlling the feed to the stadium PA system CT supplied a Yamaha CL5 desk, and Sigma Spot-on for audio playback.
Creative Technology supplied the communication systems for the event presentation team and broadcast production team. The event presentation system was built around a Riedel artist 128 matrix and featured 16 comms panels, 12 ways of Riedel C3 belt-packs. Also managed through the artist matrix were 20 Bolero wireless belt-packs for the floor management team and 4 CCP-1116 commentary units. As a backup to the event presentation system CT supplied 50 duplex hand portable radios.
For the broadcast rights holders CT provided 150 hand portable radios with 18 duplex talkback channels linked from the stadium via an audio-over-fibre solution.
24 channels of MADI delivered over Mediornet were used to make four-wire connections between event presentation and the broadcast compound.
Another 36 radios, four channels of Helixnet talkback and Glensound commentary units were provided at the Corniche for the event production of the road racing events, the system also featured motorbike communications and audio channel.
Doha 2019 saw the debut of the first midnight marathon taking place along Doha’s corniche with the iconic skyline as a backdrop. CT was contracted to supply video and audio solutions for the marathon and walks along the corniche with further audio and comms for the spectator grandstands. CT was also responsible for distributing all live signals and content to the LED screens that ran along the finish line.
Irum Ashraf, CT’s Middle East general manager, commented: “Our local office fully supported the wider Creative Technology team with both human and technical resources. Having been part of several athletic meetings held in Doha over the last year, CT’s local office played a pivotal role in providing knowledge of the local market, which helped with our successful delivery. It’s a very exciting time for sport in Qatar right now and having a base here puts us in a prime position to be involved in such great events in the future.”
Steve Purkess, head of sport at Creative Technology, said: “Working towards the IAAF World Athletics Championships in Doha has been an amazing journey, delivering presentation techniques at a scale more commonly seen in opening ceremonies into live athletics gave us a unique challenge. It has been a privilege for CT to play a part in delivering this game-changing approach to event presentation.”
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