July 18, 1996
OLYMPICS: AS IT HAPPENS
By JIM O'LEARY
At The Olympics
At the Seoul Olympic Stadium in 1988, moments before the men's 100-metre final, I wriggled into a photographers' dugout adjacent to the track in order to get the best view in the house of Ben Johnson's run for gold.
Behind me, row upon row, the stands were packed. Stadium capacity was about 80,000 and every seat was filled. I was positioned about 10 metres below the finish line. Excluding race officials and athletes, no one was closer to the track.
The starter's gun was received in the stands like a signal to open the sluice, releasing an ear-splitting torrent of emotion that swept over me from the rear. Then came the sprinters, muscles bulging, lungs bursting, heart pounding, arms churning, feet slapping the track in an unforgettable show of raw athletic power.
Within minutes of Johnson crossing the finish line in 9.79 seconds, my laptop computer was transmitting the incredible story to Toronto for the morning Sun. It seemed implausible at the time that I ever would be able to take readers closer to the action.
But that was before the Internet explosion and, in particular, the development of the World Wide Web. And it was before Toronto Sun Publishing Corp. entered the digital age by creating what has quickly become Canada's largest and most popular news and information web site, Canadian Online Explorer (CANOE). And it was before I was asked to develop a national sports service (SLAM! Sports) for CANOE, and settle in Atlanta for three weeks to provide a distinctly Canadian flavor to our coverage of the first Internet Olympics.
At my debut Olympics, the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Games, reporters used typewriters and handed their stories to a telex operator who processed and transmitted the copy to waiting newspaper editors. It was effective, but slow. Laptop computers and modems were common by the Los Angeles Summer Games of 1984, allowing reporters to file directly to their home papers.
For the 1984 Winter Games, however, the telephone network in Sarajevo couldn't support digital communication. Just making a simple overseas phone call could take an hour. One day I waited for 60 minutes, only to have my three-year-old daughter pick up the phone and declare that she was watching Sesame Street and couldn't talk now. Then I heard a dial tone.
AS IT HAPPENS
There'll be no waiting at the Atlanta Olympics. Event results will be available on CANOE almost as quick as they are being recorded in Atlanta. This is in addition to the expert news, analysis, features and photographs that the Sun's 12-member team will be providing daily for its newspapers.
There will be dozens of Olympic Internet sites, but CANOE's will be distinct because it will color its jingoism in maple leaf red and leave the red, white and blue to others. We'll focus on Canadian athletes and Canadian stories.
We'll be live at the big events to cover the likes of Donovan Bailey and Silken Laumann. There'll be pictures and biographical sketches of every Canadian athlete. In addition, each of the 29 Olympic sports will have its own home page on which we'll focus on the progress of the Canadian teams.
We'll invite Canadians to get involved in the Games by using me to show them around Atlanta. Got a question about the Olympics, or something you've always wanted to say to Bailey, or wondering about grits and collared peas? E-mail me your questions and I'll go to the source to find the answer.
We'll also be inviting athletes to come on line to participate in live dialogue with their fans in Canada, as well as building a news group to allow Olympic fans to communicate with each other.
The modern Olympics are 100 years old. The most dramatic development of the past century was the introduction of television at the 1960 Rome Games. Years from now, people may be looking back at the 1996 Games and saying something similar about the Internet.
Jim O'Leary is the Executive Producer of SLAM! Sports (www.canoe.ca/slam).