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Social Media Looks to Take Gold of its Own at London Games

July 25, 2012


With the Olympics rapidly approaching, a recent report has emerged suggesting that a whole new competition is gaining ground, and has nothing to do with the physical performance of athletes beyond their ability to type.

It's social media that's making a lot of inroads, and whether the London Games get pinned, shared, tweeted or liked, networking is about to play a whole new role in the Olympics themselves.

Several different sportscasters and similar figures are looking to hit social networks with bits of extra commentary for their users, and the focus will be, not surprisingly, on Twitter (News - Alert) and Facebook. But in turn, this is raising some difficulties for Olympic organizers, and not just because of the obvious infrastructure issues.

Some athletes have already been placed under social media bans due to previous postings, but details about the opening ceremony have nonetheless slipped out. With every event streamed or otherwise broadcast, in many cases live, spoilers will likely not be welcome by the folks paying sponsorship cash.

But at the same time, the International Olympic Committee isn't just slapping a social gag on athletes and hoping it sticks; they've developed some interesting initiatives of their own like a social media hub, allowing athletes to talk to social media users directly. This in turn is changing the game around somewhat and giving athletes a new level of celebrity, even if only Internet celebrity.

Lolo Jones, a hurdler for Team USA, has found a bit of Internet fame thanks to some witty commentary, timely updates and a follower base of better than 168,500.

But as is generally the case with Internet celebrity, it has its downsides; Australian swimmers Nick D'Arcy and Kenrick Monk were essentially grounded from social media for a month by their home country after posting pictures of themselves with guns during U.S.-based training.

United States swimming hero Michael Phelps took a blow after publicly criticizing the Olympics' new choice in swimming cap. United States hurdler Kerron Clement found his "Athletes are sleepy, hungry and need to pee" comment going unintentionally viral following a huge delay between the airport and his quarters in London.

Even with these unexpected bumps in the road, however, the Olympic committee knows it needs social media, if for no other reason than younger people chatting all over the Web. Without the next generation of Olympic viewers, the Games have a disturbing possibility to slip into obscurity, and ultimately fade away. So trying to balance out the value of social media with its potential pitfalls has proven to be somewhat difficult.

Given that this is truly the first Olympic Games with a major social media focus, though – the Beijing Games didn't have that big an issue with it – some hiccups in the process should be expected as officials try to pin down just what users should do and what they should not do.

But they're clearly right on one front; the Olympics – summer or winter – need social media to reach its fullest potential in order to stay relevant to the next generation of potential viewers.

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Edited by Braden Becker