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Technology takes the inside lane at Olympics 2012

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With a global audience of approximately 4 billion people (during the opening ceremony) and an expectation that the number of viewers eager to catch every step, every jump, every bead of sweat and every score to average 800,000 on busy days, there are bound to be a few captivating moments to emerge from the London 2012 Summer Olympic Games.

Technology is going to help drive the London Olympics 2012. (Image: Flickr/ Ariaski)

And, if technology service providers, suppliers, distributors, resellers and integrators get it right, there is not much that consumers will miss throughout the event – both the good and the bad.

On the eve of the opening ceremony, Sky News reported that a technical blunder resulted in a flag ‘mix-up’ before North Korea’s women’s opening football match against Columbia, leaving officials red-faced. The starting gun for crisis control & politics was sounded!

The Internet is covered with information that, while fascinating, also confirms that worldwide interest is very much split between what happens in stadiums and what happens outside.

And, of course, technology is at the heart of it all – with www.london2012.com being listed as the official website.

Technology has been fused into every aspect of the Games – from logistics & overall management to security to marketing & broadcast, as well as that which used during events by athletes, administrators and sponsors.

There is no doubt about the logistic challenge that hosting this event represents. From online news reports, it is clear that authorities and organisers are attempting to cover every base.

For example Listverse.com details the introduction of the Olympic Javelin Train, a high-speed mode of transport specifically designed to accommodate and serve millions of expected visitors.

Multiple online reports, including those from the BBC and Sky News services, say the Olympic Route Network has already come into effect and lays the foundation for special ‘games lanes’ across the traffic network.

These are for the exclusive use of transport arranged specifically for the Olympics.

According to London2012.com, all main venues and infrastructure (inclusive of the Olympic Park, Olympic Stadium, the Velodrome, Aquatics Centre and Olympic Village) were completed by mid-year 2011 and within budget.

A content-driven business

A CNN online report refers to valuation specialist, Brand Finance, as saying that the Olympic brand is worth just over $47.5 billion – valued slightly above that of Google at $47,4 billion. It should come as no surprise that marketing is a major aspect of this event.

In his blog, Keith Tilley, MD UK and Executive Vice President Europe for SunGard Availability Services, states that the Games is expected to add £21 billion to the UK economy. He also refers to an interview the company conducted with 250 UK directors as part of an investigation into organisational and employee concerns regarding the Olympics.

“88% of employees feel left in the dark when it comes to Olympic working policies, despite four out of five businesses claiming to have made adequate disruption plans for working during the Games. The divide becomes even more apparent when considering that over half (55%) of organizations claim to have communicated these plans already,” the piece stated.

In addition to the fact that this Olympics is reportedly the first to be broadcast in HD and in 3D, global media have focused on the impact of social networking and social media as mechanisms through which news of the event will be disseminated, instantly and automatically.

There is also an online debate over the assertion that this is the first truly “social media Olympics” – Vancouver has hosted the Winter Olympics and there are those that refute the notion that London’s event is the first real “conversational event”.

Irrespective, there is no doubt that social media is inextricably linked to the promotion and broadcast of this event.

Greg Viljoen, Cape Town-based Head of Digital with global media agency Carat, says there is no doubt that the Games will involve multi-platform global social engagement like never before.

“The Games are going to be driven by social media via Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and YouTube,” he says.

Viljoen says the buzz is already out there that this year’s event will become the first Social Games, ushering in an era which will see the world’s public engage with the international athletics extravaganza in a way never seen before.

The figures speak for themselves, says Viljoen: In 2008, there were a mere 100 million people using Facebook. Four years later in 2012, this figure has snowballed to a colossal 900 million users worldwide.

In 2008, only 6 million people were bothering to condense their thoughts into 140 characters to share on online social networking and micro-blogging service Twitter. Fast-forward from Beijing to London, and Twitter has morphed into a global behemoth, now sporting more than 500 million users!

“With social media being bigger now than ever before and the public’s access to the Internet via mobile devices ever on the increase, everyone can follow and have their say instantaneously, which will make these games far more social and interactive than anything before,” says Viljoen.

“Social Media now gives spectators a voice which they did not have before, and this of course gives them the sense of being far more involved. From voicing opinions and commenting on performances whether from their couches in Langebaan or Limpopo, or from the pound seats in the stadium at Olympic Park in Stratford, London, social media will be the voice of the Olympics and the vehicle through which millions of people express themselves.”

It has also been reported that the BBC expects to put all 4,500 hours of the games online, a feat that will require the efforts of 14 000 users connected to a dedicated network.

According to Stuff.co.nz organisers are taking no chances with security, including that of cyber-security. A report claims games organisers and IT service providers are ready for ‘hacktivists’ – with the knowledge that digital systems to record scores and timings may be the intended target.

The news station also reports on a deal brokered between Westminster City Council and O2 to launch a free Wi-Fi service in central London’s West End. This is reportedly available to all Internet users, regardless of their current provider.

Media reports in the run up to the event focused on a climate of negativity within the UK, specifically London, hovering over the pending event. It did not take developers and innovators long to spring into action.

According to a Boston Global online report, a Boston company, Sosolimited, has developed technology system that has been applied and integrated onto the London Eye, a renowned landmark. It is based on using a colour system to reflect the mood of locals through analysis of Tweets from Twitter users. Yellow is symbolic for ‘happiness’, for example.

Technology in action

One cannot discuss the role of technology at the Olympics without including the relevance of technology actually being used by athletes and sponsors.

The UK’s Telegraph published an article about a barter agreement between athletes and health companies based on data. According to the report health companies provide competitors with devices to help monitor and record details pertaining to diet, training schedules, sleep patterns and other information that impact on performance.

In exchange, the companies can use the data to enhance their products.

There is also an interesting report about the introduction of new time-keeping technology, the Quantum Timer, that can reportedly record up to one-millionth of a second.

Developed by the official Olympic timekeeper Omega, it has been reported that the technology is 100 times faster than previous systems and five times more accurate.

In another example of technology application by athletes, BBC online reports that the British Boxing team is already using an integrated performance-analysis system called iBoxer.

This technology is used by boxers to monitor and analyse movements, measure performance using graphs, focused specifically on punches.

Whether a person is tuning into the Olympics via TV, radio, Internet or any other communications medium, one thing is certain: the event is going global and technology is the vehicle that is making it happen.

Chris Tredger, Online Editor

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