Troy Rawhiti-Forbes: Athletes open to public scrutiny

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Satoko Suetsuna watches badminton matches with Twitter on her phone at hand. Photo / AP
Satoko Suetsuna watches badminton matches with Twitter on her phone at hand. Photo / AP

The public's fascination with the Olympic athletes, and what they do when they're not in active competition, has never been higher.

This has been spurred in no small part by reports from past Olympic meets about the summers of love in the Olympic Village, but for the most part you can look to Twitter for the answer.

Thanks to the emergence of smartphone-friendly social networks, the public has never had better access to Olympic athletes, or the village, as they have had for London's 2012 Games.

Sri Lankan hurdles runner Christine Sonali Merrill (@SonaliMerrill) posted a brief video clip from inside the village, showing athletes crowding around a free Powerade dispensing machine. Some milled about, chatting away, while others in boxing gear sparred beneath the trees. It is a view of Olympic life few would have seen even as recently as Beijing's 2008 Games.

And, as Merrill noted, it's a whole lot easier than getting in to the real village.

"Security is so good that they make babies get accreditation here," she tweeted after seeing a woman push a stroller around the dining hall, the baby inside wearing a visitor's badge.

The athletes do their best work with their competition gear on, but their frank and unmoderated missives are making them easier to relate to. The better you know the athletes, the easier it is to support them.

The British team and their management knew this coming into the Olympics, and have been running a social media campaign that has been as competitive as their athletic schedule.

In every event involving a British athlete, the @TeamGB account calls on fans to get behind them, and they do, hundreds of times each minute.

Australian swimmer Stephanie Rice, who had a disappointing campaign in London, was heartened by the messages she received from her followers.

"So hard to get out of bed," Rice tweeted the morning after she missed a medal in the women's 200m individual medley.

"I lay there for 30 minutes, reading my mentions. You guys are amazing."

It's also easier for athletes to support each other. In the midst of all this national pride and team spirit, it's often overlooked that the athletes are friends. The social web lays it bare.

"The disappointment of fourth has been softened by the knowledge that you won," New Zealand single sculler Emma Twigg (@twigge) tweeted to British double sculler Sophie Hosking.

Twigg said Hosking was a "little tiny baby legend".

It has been interesting to see the Olympian line blurred because of this openness. Some of these elite competitors will one day be revered in the way we treat Halberg, Snell, Loader and the Evers-Swindells. Maybe even more so, since this new familiarity helps us appreciate their efforts to rise above the pack and be extraordinary even more.

TWEET OF THE DAY
Thanks to all the fans for supporting and believing. You have been a part of the journey. "To the World Me Say'' @UsainBolt

- NZ Herald

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