Imagine if the 1980 Winter Olympics happened in the age of social media.
“I wonder how many servers would have crashed?” mused Jon Lundin, spokesman for the Olympic Regional Development Authority in Lake Placid.
He recalled that year’s Olympic medal-round men’s ice hockey game, when the relatively inexperienced United States national team defeated the much-decorated Soviet Union in what has become known as the Miracle on Ice. The majority of sports fans did not know about what is now widely viewed as one of the greatest moments in sports history until they experienced the excitement in a tape-delayed broadcast.
Today, social media sites like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook broadcast glimpses of the Olympics in real time. Followers can find out who has medaled almost immediately, get unique peeks behind the scenes and live vicariously through their favorite athletes.
Team USA has its own Instagram account and Twitter feed, and The Olympic Athletes’ Hub website includes a list
of competitors’ personal social media sites. Athletes are posting with great regularity, and fans are taking to their Internet-enabled devices in droves for up-to-the-minute updates.
The instant gratification and insider information social media provides has its good points and its bad ones, media experts and Olympic enthusiasts say.
“It’s never been so easy to feel like you can connect to somebody, whether it be your idol or a celebrity role model. All you have to do is search their name and start following them, and you can be really tapped into what they’re doing,” said NewsChannel 13 anchor and reporter Jessica Layton.
Layton’s husband, Andrew Catalon, is a play-by-play announcer for the Olympic curling competition in Sochi. This is his fourth time calling the Olympics for NBC.
Layton recalled when Catalon was at the Vancouver Olympics four years ago.
“It was a totally different world in terms of social media,” she said. “There was Facebook, but I don’t think that Twitter had really burst into the popularity that it has today.”
Now, Catalon has well more than 2,000 Twitter followers who tune in to find out the latest on Olympic curling. A popular topic on his Twitter feed is a daily update on what pants Norway’s curling team is wearing — Wednesday, it was red-and-white plaid knickers.
“And now we need a #knickers hashtag?” he joked Wednesday on his feed.
Paul Conti, an assistant professor of communications at The College of Saint Rose, said when it comes to obtaining information about everything, including the Olympics, the young adults he comes into contact with don’t care what route the content takes to get to them.
“They just want to get it. It’s an on-demand kind of thing. ‘I want it now, and I’m going to look to find it now, and if it’s available now, I’m going to consume it now,’ ” he explained.
The nine-hour time difference between Sochi and the eastern United States makes it difficult to get that instant gratification by way of television. Often Olympic events are televised hours after they are over. But finding out the standings in a favorite sport from a social media post isn’t necessarily the most thrilling way to experience the Olympics.
“I think in some way social media has kind of taken away from that excitement, where now you’re not forced, maybe, to sit in front of the television at 8 o’clock at night to watch prime time because you know exactly what has happened,” Lundin reasoned.
Social media is fraught with spoilers — posts that give away the results of a yet-to-be-broadcast event. But there is a way to avoid many of them while still trolling the feeds on Twitter and Facebook: spoiler-blocking apps. Spoiler Shield and Bloko are two free ones that filter out Olympic-related tweets and Facebook posts.
Despite the risk of ruining a surprise, following Olympic athletes’ adventures via social media is fun.
Lundin said he follows women’s singles luge bronze medalist Erin Hamlin, Nordic combined Olympian Billy Demong and USA women’s hockey team member Julie Chu.
“You get the athletes’ perspective a little bit, and you kind of feel as though maybe you’re a part of it. You’re more inside than you are as a casual viewer because you feel as though you have more of a connection with the athletes than maybe you’ve had in the past,” he said.
Despite all of the social media hype, there are still those who prefer to enjoy the Olympics the old-fashioned way.
Brian Delaney, who owns High Peaks Cyclery in Lake Placid, said he keeps track of the games on television. Occasionally, he also consults the website fastskier.com.
“I just don’t have the time for it, to be honest,” he explained.