Thursday, 2 August 2012

London 2012: All hail the first Twitter Olympics: Feschuk

London 2012: All hail the first Twitter Olympics: Feschuk

Published on Wednesday August 01, 2012

By Feschuk, DaveSports Columnist
LONDON—The folks who run the Olympics like to pretend it’s a mega-event for everyone, but we know better.
Maybe the Olympic spirit is in us all. But as for Olympic tickets — well, they’re certainly not in everyone’s budget. The hopeless “oarsman” from Niger who figured out a way to compete in the Olympics three months after having taken up sculling — that dude just wrote the book on the best way to see the Olympics up close without climbing the corporate ladder or handing over your first-born son to a scalper. If you want a close-up view of the Games, you’d better get schmoozing or get training. It’s the way of a world ruled by the dollar bill and the pound sterling and the Chinese yuan.
And yet, maybe it isn’t. I’m one of the lucky schleps who sees a little bit of these Olympics from a vantage point that’s occasionally close to the field of play. I’ve had great conversations with athletes and coaches and officials here. It’s a privilege and a thrill, and I cannot register a single complaint. But I’ve probably learned and seen more about these Games doing what I’m doing now — which is, as it often is, sitting in front of my computer.
When I’m not plotting my route to citizenship in a federated Pacific atoll that’s thinking about starting an Olympic golf team — they’ll be teeing up in Rio in 2016, after all, and if somebody’s going to play the Eddie the Eagle dufus, it might as well be me — I’m looking at Twitter.
On Twitter I’ve learned an incredible amount of information about the Olympics. I’ve learned that a couple of athletes are either racist or dim-witted enough not to know what’s generally accepted as racist language. (And that those athletes have been sent home for their ill-advised tweets.) I’ve learned Yohan Blake takes post-workout ice baths (he tweeted a photo of himself taking the chilly plunge). I’ve learned actor Samuel L. Jackson is a live-tweeting monster. (Sample post from Jackson’s gymnastics coverage: “That BEAM’s a BEEYOTCH!! Les’ get ta TUMBLIN’! Go USA!!!)
I’ve also communicated by Twitter’s direct message feature with athletes I’m looking to interview, because I find they respond quicker than they do by email or phone message, probably because they’re on Twitter a lot.
I can’t think of very many inventions that have aided both reporting about sports and being a fan of them more thoroughly. Newspapers and radios and TVs have had their places, and still do. The paper program, the increasingly sophisticated in-venue scoreboard — they’ve had their impact in their time. But social networks are in the conversation.
This is not to say the connectedness comes without risks and problems. Twitter has some 140 million users — 19 per cent of Canadians who are online also Tweet, according to the latest Ipsos study.
To lowball it, tens of millions are complete morons. But if Twitter’s community will always harbour hate-spewing knuckleheads — “Twitter is merely the most effective conduit for human venom ever invented,” London’s The Independent rightly pointed out this week — the slime-residers are mostly easy to ignore and almost wholly irrelevant.
What’s more alarming, this week, is that Twitter’s operators have been accused of stifling free speech. The San Francisco-based company shut down the account of a British journalist after he jabbed NBC’s policy of showing the Olympics on a time delay.
The journalist, Guy Adams, tweeted the corporate email address of an NBC executive. And while Twitter’s policies prohibit the posting of the personal information of others, that email address was publicly available via a quick Google search.
Adams’s account has since been restored, but it’s worth pointing out that an NBC statement that claimed that the network only complained about Adams’s tweet “after they had been alerted to it by Twitter.” In other words, by those appearances, the folks who run the Wild West of social media are being accused of being an awfully intolerant sheriff. Chinese censors are taking notes at their expedient catch.
There have been other headline-making moments on what can be an anti-social medium. A British fan was arrested for posting menacing tweets at Tom Daley, the home-country diver. (In the old days, would-be stalkers wouldn’t provide the cops with their home address.) A British lawmaker slammed Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony as “leftie multicultural crap.” (And we appreciate the honest take.) Athletes have staged a protest to sponsorship restrictions that cut them and their agents out of an Olympic windfall. (To which their agents say, “That’ll be 4 per cent.”)
Certainly coaches and officials want their athletes focused on competing here and not caught up in wars of words with the anonymous detractors that, if the size of a competitor’s profile is sufficient, inevitably show up. But there are plenty of athletes who have spent the opening week of this Olympics expounding on the benefits of Twitter and other social networks when it comes to fortifying their pre-competition psyches.
And, the synchronized diving bronze medallists from Montreal marvelled at how their Internet following spiked after their win. The event took place at a venue filled with empty seats — seats that the average fan still can’t seem to access despite the image-conscious efforts of organizers.
Said Will Crothers, a member of the Canadian rowing eight that won a silver medal on Wednesday: “I’m not supposed to be checking my social networks like Facebook and Twitter, but I sneak a peek every once in a while. The support’s unbelievable. … To see so many people caring about what we do in representing that maple leaf, it’s so important to me. That’s the whole reason I wanted to be at the Olympics.”
That’s the connection that these massively scaled Games can overshadow. There are some of us na├»ve enough to believe that the Olympics, at their heart, are still the story of athletes pursuing excellence. They’re also an enduringly awe-inspiring place for would-be athletes, and the rest of us, to vicariously revel in that pursuit.
These are being called the first Twitter Olympics because Twitter is making the exclusive seem inclusive, even when it probably isn’t.

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