The First 'Internet Games'

At an event like the Olympic Games, the need for computing technology cannot be overestimated. It is used at every stage of the event, from the initial preparatory sessions, to the design of new sporting facilities, the production of marketing and promotional materials, the scheduling of the seemingly countless sporting events, and, with the advent of widespread use of the Internet, dissemination of event information via the World Wide Web.

At the event itself, computers will be used to collate event results, distribute this information instantly to the media and Olympic officials, manage the distribution of television and radio broadcasts worldwide, send data and images from print journalists to their publications instantaneously, manage the huge archives of Olympic information in all formats (text, sound, image) - the list is almost endless, and grows with every Olympiad.

The official provider of data communications equipment for the Olympic Games is IBM. For the Atlanta Games, the company has designed a state-of-the-art system catering to information needs for every facet of the event.

The Results System has the ability to deliver the results of the 271 Olympic events to reporters on-site within three-tenths of a second. The system is linked to the Swatch timing devices which will be used to measure the performance of each of the 10,000 participating athletes. Data will also be gathered by scores of volunteers at each event. This year, many of them will be equipped with portable pen-based ThinkPads, which will enable them to 'touch in' the event results, rather than having to enter them in laboriously via a keyboard.

The Commentator Information System, which is a part of the Results System, will allow media commentators to see details of up to nine events at the same time. They will be able to view information on in-progress events and recently completed events within seconds, and a wealth of background information on the competitors, including photos and historical statistics, will be available at the touch of a key.

The system also has the advantage of being egalitarian and true to the Olympic vision of friendship and understanding through sport. It has been designed with the end-market in mind - that is, the ordinary viewer or listener at home - and has as its goal the widest possible dissemination of Olympic information. Press teams from all over the world will have the same access to the same vital information, regardless of the size of the media organization they represent. So journalists from less affluent countries will be able to deliver the same high quality reports back home, assuring people there the same level and quality of coverage as those who live in richer nations.

The Commentator Information System also allows commentators to 'tailor' their information to suit their customers. By specifying a country at the beginning of a session, relevant information will be highlighted on screen, making it easy to distinguish and easy to use.

Another system developed specifically for the Atlanta Olympics is known as Info '96. This system will be available in on-site kiosks throughout the facilities, and will provide a wide range of information for athletes, coaches, trainers, staff and the press. Using Info '96, a user will be able to retrieve information on event schedules, locations, start and finish times, and weather conditions by venue. The system will also be able to provide updated games results, maps of the venues, athlete biographies, and up-to-the-minute news. It will offer an electronic mail function as well, facilitating communication around the event.

The World Wide Web pages provided for the Atlanta Games were also designed and implemented by IBM. These Centennial Games are the first at which the Internet will be used as a major source of Olympic information - another step forwards in the development of the Global Information Infrastructure, and the truly global promotion of the Olympic ideal.