PR & Social Media

How the Internet and Social Media Have Changed the Olympics

February 18, 2014

The Olympic Games have always been exciting. So many events to watch, so many athletes to admire, so many stories to hear.

In recent years, however, the internet and social media have become key participants in the Games. And, well, let’s just say they’ve upped the ante.


A new level of coverage

We’ve come a long way since 1956, when the Winter Olympics in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy became the first Games to be televised internationally. (In black and white, of course!)

Today, (color) TV is just one of many ways to follow the Olympics. In fact, thanks to live streaming online, we technically don’t even need TV anymore. Internet sources, phone apps, and social media channels now dominate the coverage scene, allowing us to engage in the action on a whole new level.

If you’re looking for news stories, online sources are riddled with impressively up-to-date accounts of what’s happening overseas. Check out Yahoo’s homepage, for example. The New York Times is also hosting firehose, a live stream of pictures submitted by journalists from around the world.

If mobile access is more your speed, you have several Olympic app options:

– The Sochi 2014 app provides times and standings for all events.

Team USA’s “Road to Sochi” app chronicles the athletes’ journeys to the Games and how they performed.

– The Sochi WOW App details anything and everything Olympics – sport rules, schedules, videos and results.

– The Olympic Athletes’ hub integrates Facebook, Twitter and Instagram into a personalized Olympics dashboard.

– The U.S. Olympic Committee offers Pinsanity, encouraging users to collect pins and complete Olympic-themed challenges.

And then there’s social media. Here are just a few of the hashtags and feeds that are taking the lead on Olympic coverage in the social realm:

Who’s more famous: medalist or meme?

With all the onsite cameras, live newsfeeds and social media commentary, Olympic athletes are getting thrust into the spotlight more than ever before—for better or for worse. The minute athletes complete their performances, the internet is already buzzing with reactions and commentary.

Positive Effects

These days, the Olympics aren’t just about competing for your country and showing the world your talent. They’re also about raising your profile and gaining the attention of potential sponsors.

“This is a great opportunity to build my legacy and build my brand,” said American alpine skier Mikaela Shiffrin, who is expected to be one of the Games’ breakout stars.

One way to do that is by winning. Another is by becoming an Internet sensation.

American snowboarder Sage Kotsenburg gained 43,000 Twitter followers in two days after he won gold. “It’s so rad,” he said. “So random that people want to follow you after you do something like that. All I did was land a run. I’ve landed tons of other runs.”

Of course, not all Internet sensationalism is created equal. For some athletes, the stunning performances they’d like to be known for won’t be the things people remember best.

Not So Positive Effects

The internet allows athletes to be showcased over and over again—and, often, it’s not their most flattering moments that make the biggest waves.

Most of us know about figure skater Ashley Wagner’s “not impressed” look, which became a meme (following in McKayla Maroney’s famous footsteps). But does anyone actually remember her skating performance?

And what about Olga Graf, the Russian speed skater? Has her self-inflicted wardrobe malfunction launched her into fame and fortune? Is a sponsorship from a clothing company coming her way? What about a pistachio commercial? I can see it now… the unzipping of her costume to crack nuts. “Olga Graf does it this way… Zzzzzip!”

Memes, the internet and the constant chatter via social media have me thinking: is it better to be a meme than a medalist?


Beyond the games

Journalists aren’t just reporting on what’s happening inside arenas anymore. They’ve taken “reporting” to a whole new level, thanks to social media, by sharing their personal stories of discolored water, open manholes and questionable toilets in Sochi.

These and other issues quickly paved the way for a new Twitter account: @SochiProblems. The account has more than 340,000 followers, about 80,000 more than the official @Sochi2014 account.

And it’s not just journalists who are sharing their troubling tales.

The once anonymous bobsledder, Johnny Quinn, is now famous for being the guy trapped in the bathroom. After punching his way out and tweeting a picture of the damage, Quinn was invited to appear on NBC’s Today Show.

If that wasn’t bad enough, Quinn next had the misfortune of getting stuck on an elevator with a teammate. You can guess what happened: tweets and pictures of the epic debacle ensued, further elevating him to Internet stardom.

One might argue that Quinn’s “problems” weren’t really that problematic at all, in the end.


What if we had social media when…

It seems like this is the year we heard and saw it all. In addition to the typical successes, failures, tears and triumphs, we also saw contaminated water, cardboard doors and less-than-ideal safety and sanitary conditions.

If it weren’t for people like Johnny Quinn and everyone contributing to @SochiProblems, keeping us updated on the Olympic Underworld via social media, would we have even half the perspective we do now?

I can only wonder what it would have been like to have social media at previous Olympic Games…


Germany stripped of medals for cheating. Who knew you could rig a luge to make it go faster? #thoughtitwasgravity #wishUSAthoughtofthat


OMG @NancyKerrigan clubbed by @TonyaHarding’s ex-husband! Is this the end of her career? #crazylady #clubbed #exhusbandstilllovesyou #nomoresequins


Salt Lake City offeredSuperBowl tixs, cash and new noses to host Olympic Games. #keepitclassy #IOCmembersneednewjobs  #itakebribes

Just imagine where the meme world would have taken this gem:

Looking ahead

Considering the trends we’ve seen over the past decade, we can only assume that the involvement of the internet and social media in the Olympic Games will increase. I mean, we’re already so far beyond the London 2010 Olympics, which were nicknamed the “Twitter Olympics.”

What ugly details will journalists expose during the 2016 Summer Games in Brazil? Which athlete’s facial expressions will get splashed all over the internet? What blunders and debacles will spread like wildfire through the Twitosphere?

And the biggest questions of all: Will it all be too distracting? Are we on our way to forgetting what the Olympic Games are really all about?

Credits: This post contains information, comments and quotes previously shared in USA Today’s article “If London was Twitter Olympics, call Sochi the Viral Games,” and Smithsonian Magazine’s article “Best Ways to Follow 2014 Olympic Games.” 


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