Athletes serve up tweets with feats

Elena Hight

Celebrities do it, candidates do it, you do it (or at least have heard of it). And athletes do it, with Vancouver 2010 set to become the first “Twitter Olympics,” an experiment in crossing the world’s greatest sporting event with a blizzard of information swept up by social media platforms.

Anybody with Internet access can enhance the Olympics watching – or better, following – experience. Tonight NBC (7:30 p.m. on Channel 3) unfurls the traditional opening ceremonies coverage for the XXI Olympic Winter Games, and accompanying those images and commentary are athletes and fans posting photos and tweeting.

Athletic excellence on snow and ice and more will be captured by many for all. Sure, you can watch Apolo Ohno speedskate in his third Olympics. But who doesn’t want to see the view from the “Dancing With the Stars” champion’s suite?

“There’s so much more than what people see on NBC or on the morning show,” said freestyle skier Shannon Bahrke, who grew up in Tahoe City. “I blog about getting up in the morning, having cereal … it’s my everyday life, but it helps other people understand what it takes to be an Olympic athlete.”

The tweets have already started to flow from the Olympic Village.

“Checked in and chilling at the Vancouver house, personal cheff [sic] is a nice touch,” tweeted snowboarder Nate Holland late Wednesday night. Holland (twitter ID: N8Holland), of Squaw Valley, has more than 500 followers.

And the Facebook posts:

“US team family time in the living room … twittering, facebooking, pool, spinning,” snowboarder Elena Hight, 20, of South Lake Tahoe, wrote on her Facebook fan page last week.

Hight, who will compete in the halfpipe competition, said she’ll tweet multiple times daily from her iPhone, and upload photos. Her 600-plus Facebook fans flood her page with support.

“I’ve gotten so many congratulations and good lucks, and it’s been awesome to have that connection with fans,” she said.

This year, public appetite, technology and looser rules came together to create “perfect storm” conditions for a Twitter Olympics, said Robert Scales, who runs the Web site

In Turin 2006, blogging was frowned upon and athletes were subject to media blackout periods, he said. In Beijing 2008, blogging was allowed but the government’s “great firewall of China” put a damper on social media users, Scales said.

Joining the Twitter party are spectators documenting their stories. Sacramento’s Karl Alexander and Jeremiah Mayhew are competing to be the best social-media “Olympians” through Samsung’s Mobile Explorer competition, found on Facebook.

The duo have been taking requests, for example promising a local Russian family they would find the Russian ice skating team. They are also interested in the Vancouver night life and music scene.

“We’re going to uncover the cultural side of the Olympics from the ground level,” said Mayhew, 26.

The more traditional journalists use Twitter to add to reporting. Channel 3’s Deidre Fitzpatrick and Brian Hickey, for example, will report live and contribute to the “Olympic Zone” show each night before the events start. In addition, they are blogging and tweeting (IDs: fitztweeter, 3bhickey).

NBC, which paid $820 million for Vancouver 2010’s TV rights, has stamped its brand on cable, Web and mobile delivery. NBC actively polices blogger videos, said U.S. Olympic Committee spokesman Bob Condron.

Rights and rules of the Twitter Olympics have caused confusion among athletes. American skier Lindsey Vonn posted, then retracted, on her Facebook that she would be under an Internet “blackout.”

Bahrke said athletes were told they can publish first-person accounts, but cannot take photos of the sporting action or ceremonies, post videos, or refer to any non-official Olympics sponsors.

“There are a bunch of rules we have to follow, but it’s kind of gray and I don’t think they’ve got everything quite figured out,” she said.

Olympic athletes also have their own sites. Ohno ( suggests keeping up with him on Youtube or Flickr. Or click on the “FollowApolo” link.

Social media updates will probably reach a small, younger percentage of the population. Nearly half of adults use some kind of social network, but only 19 percent use Twitter or another status updating service, the PEW Internet and American Life Project reported late last year. However, 37 percent of 18-to-24- year-olds used a Twitter-like service.

Who cares enough about such minutiae is also unclear. A good half of the local athletes’ Twitter followers are businesses using it for marketing. The rest seem to be diehard fans and other competitors.

Chris Martinez of Sacramento has a 15-year-old daughter who figure skates competitively. Martinez follows several figure skating Olympians and organizations on Twitter.

He logged onto his account Thursday (ID: Airman747), and discovered Alissa Czisny, the 2009 U.S. ladies figure skating champion, had parted ways with her coach.

“I care because my daughter skates, so I know how difficult of a sport it is, and I appreciate how minor, minor changes on hand positions can make a jump go from a success to a failure,” he said.

Also Thursday he found an interactive map of the Olympic village. Just so you know, he tweeted it was “Very cool.”