With these Olympic Games comes a whole new way to keep up with your favorite athletes. Social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook have gotten much more popular and mainstream since the last winter Olympics. In fact, Twitter didn't even launch until March of 2006, and its number of users has grown exponentially since then.
So some are dubbing the 2010 Vancouver Olympics the "Twitter Olympics," because the athletes are more in touch with the everyday population than ever before. But is the constant communication and unedited flow of personal messages good for the Games and for the athletes' performances?
Gillian Reagan of the Business Insider points out that while there are rules and regulations regarding the information that athletes can publish about the Olympics, the easy access and widespread use of new technologies has presented some gray areas as far as what is allowable content for athletes to post. For example, the rules state that athletes can't "report" on events, ceremonies, behind-the-scenes happenings or other athletes, which makes it seem like they can't use social media tools during the Olympic Games at all. But later it seems that the rules were cleared up, and that athletes and personnel can post updates about the Olympics, just no updates, pictures or video during competition or the opening and closing ceremonies. The full rules can be found on the Olympic official Web site.
The Montreal Gazette reported that more than 80 of the 200 U.S. athletes have Twitter accounts, and coaches and others worry about the potential for distraction from the new tools. Psychologist Barbara Meyer, who is working with a few athletes in this Olympic Games, has advised some to stop using the social media tools during the Games to limit distractions. “Anything that increases anxiety or is a distraction has the potential to affect performance,” she told the Gazette. Some athletes have slowed down; for example, snowboarder Lindsey Jacobellis hasn't been Tweeting for most of February (see her account).
But other athletes might be reluctant to stop tweeting and Facebooking. Some say they really enjoy the support they get from fans, and others like to be able to give supporters an insider view of some under-appreciated sports.
And for those of us not in the Olympics, it seems undeniable that we enjoy having the access to the athletes. Skiier Lindsey Vonn has more than 56,000 followers on Twitter (see her account), and many other athletes have gained substantial followings during the last few months (see a list of U.S. Olympian Twitter accounts). It will be interesting to see what technology has in store for the 2014 Winter Olympics.Haley Lovett