For tech-savvy sports fans, following the 2012 London Games can feel like its own sporting event. If a regular day’s jump into the quickly flowing social media stream seems overwhelming, navigating the flood of Olympics-related tweets, Facebook posts, Instagram photos, and other updates may require a Herculean effort (OK, not a physical effort, but still).
Sure, we got a taste of a what a social Olympics could be in Vancouver’s 2010 games and in Beijing in 2008, but the growth since then has been astounding. As The Associated Press reports, Twitter had about six million users, and Facebook approximately 100 million, during the last Summer Olympics. Four years later, there are 140 million Twitter and 900 million Facebook users posting and clicking away.
Among the millions of people furiously updating their social networks are athletes, who, thanks to the prevalence of mobile devices, will offer fans a remarkable new kind of access to this year’s events.
Alex Hout, the International Olympic Committee’s head of social media, put it this way: “Vancouver was just the first snowflake. This is going to be a big snowball.”
It’s not just that there are more people consuming and producing social media than in previous years — there has been an institutional embrace of social networks in the sports world. At last week’s trials for Canada’s Olympic track and field team, participants wore their Twitter handles on their race bibs. And during the Games, the IOC plans to host live chats with athletes, including asking questions fans send in from their social media accounts. The IOC has also launched its Athletes’ Hub, which collates posts from Olympians’ Facebook and Twitter accounts in one easy-to-navigate site.
Thankfully, athletes and accredited personnel are allowed to post relatively freely during the Games, per IOC rules, “provided that it is not for commercial and/or advertising purposes.”
But good judgment is a must, as Olympic champion Kristi Yamaguchi pointed out in a recent Mashable interview. “Now you have to be smart about what you’re putting out there, because once you do it’s there forever,” she said. “It’s harder for young athletes to think about how it might affect them down the line or cause controversy.”
One case in point: The Australian Olympic Committee recently punished swimmers Nick D’Arcy and Kenrick Monk after the athletes posted photos of themselves holding shotguns on Facebook. In addition to being sent home the day the Olympic swimming events finish, the two have been banned from using social media for a month. (The horror!)
The two swimmers’ accounts will be silent during the Games, but plenty of athletes will be sharing their thoughts during the two weeks of competition. Business Insider chose the top 25 athletes to follow on Twitter; here’s the top group, with links to their tweets and, of course, their Trove channels. Dive in to the stream — the water’s just right.
American runner Lolo Jones: Twitter | Trove
American swimmer Ryan Lochte: Twitter | Trove
Australian swimmer Stephanie Rice: Twitter | Trove
British diver Tom Daley: Twitter | Trove
American swimmer Michael Phelps: Twitter | Trove