The Olympics in the Age of Internet Outrage

On Thursday, the USOC picked Boston as the American contender to host the Olympics in 2024. Somehow they were able to do this despite the alleged massive, huge, giant outcry on the social medias.

Now there are lots of weird questions about why the USOC picked Boston over Los Angeles or San Francisco (OK, really over Los Angeles, because even though I was massively hoping for San Francisco or for a joint L.A.-S.F. California bid, that was never going to happen — the internet was even more certain of that). And, I personally am of the opinion that Boston is not going to win the games. They clearly could not beat Rome or Paris or Istanbul or Berlin in a fair fight. Of course, the Olympics bidding process isn’t a fair fight and the U.S. will definitely get an Olympics before NBC’s TV contract comes up for renewal. So, who knows.

But, what really fascinated me was that as everyone started (or kept) speculating, one of the things story after story repeated was that Boston would have to overcome all this opposition from the public. I mean, there was a Twitter account against Boston2024, for Chrissakes, a Twitter account!!

So widespread was the certainty that public opinion was being reflected online and that the internet public opinion could stop the Olympics from coming to the U.S., that I heard it cited in conversation as a reason Boston won’t get the games. I saw this argument in papers and on other social media accounts commenting on the opposition’s social media accounts. (To a degree, it did manage to stymie the San Francisco bid in the sense that everyone knows anything is a hassle in San Francisco.)

And, yet, when I went to the NoBostonOlympics twitter Friday afternoon (after the selection announcement and after all this press, when presumably it would have had an influx of supporters), it had 560 followers. You know who has more Twitter followers than that? Me. Maybe my opinions should single-handedly shape public events.

The account now has about 1,800 followers after more coverage of its opposition efforts. And, you don’t need to convince me that how many followers something has is not the best indicator of anything. But, the fact remains that there was barely an internet movement against these games — until we gave them a platform to become one. (For comparison, the NoSF2024 twitter has about 100 followers and the organization is made up of about four people who know how to work the media, and still they got significant coverage in Bay Area news. Despite actual polls suggesting public opinion was very different.)

There’s been a lot of talk about how the Olympics is going to move forward if no one wants to host it. There’s been quite a bit of discussion about if the cost and burden of hosting the Olympics is simply not viable in a democracy. But, I don’t know if that’s the right question.

People having a voice isn’t a problem. Some people’s voices being artificially inflated until a few sound like a mob is a problem.

The internet has been wearing me out lately. (Like, really, really wearing me out. And, boring me with its over-the-top predictability.) And, I love the internet. When people ask what I do for work, sometimes I just say, “The Internet.” But, I will be the first to tell you that the internet is home to as many problems as solutions. It tends to magnify our worst tendencies and make it easy to rush to judgement. It works in favor of those who do not deal in nuance. It often misreads tone and fails to grant the benefit of the doubt. And, it creates mobs where there have not always been mobs. I’ve been thinking about this a lot because I’ve been forced to, because over and over again the internet mob creates just one version of the truth. And, perhaps, I often agree with the mob right now, perhaps I’m ideologically aligned with strident liberalism, but what happens when the mob is wrong? What happens when they’re not wrong, but just don’t deserve to be the only voice? What happens when I don’t agree with them anymore, when the mob turns on itself?

I love the Olympics too. I do. Despite all clear-headed skepticism about how it is packaged and sold, I love it. I think there are lies within the games, but that the competition at its heart is one of those capital T Truths. I believe that the Olympics can cost a city money, but I think it can also bring a city a lot in return. I know that there are changes that need to and must be made to how the Olympics run (like athletes being paid better), but I hope those things don’t fundamentally change the Olympics.

And, I really hope the internet doesn’t ruin the Olympics.

From xkcd of course.
From xkcd of course.

Some Sunday Night Time-Wasting

Here are some random thoughts as I waste some time when I should obviously be working.

1. You know what you really shouldn’t do? A race, a birthday party and then try to wrap up a story that is definitely like two days overdue — but, I mean, not really as long as you can finish it by the end of the weekend, right?

2. If you’re the race director for a race, then refreshing to see if the race results are up yet when you haven’t put them up yet is really not going to be effective.

3. I have a lot of coaching opinions for Olympic athletes. Pretty much brilliant insight. We’re calling it Kelly’s Coaching Comments. Examples include: ‘If  he has broken ribs then he probably should try to qualify straight through to the final to avoid additional runs.’ And, also: ‘With that fumble on the rails she’s really going to have to go bigger on the jumps.’ (Also, I am 95% sure I should be hired for Olympic commentary.)

4. Team ice skating. WTF, IOC, WTF. At the very least, you should have either pulled the scores from existing individual events — with more qualifying skaters obvs — or just put all of the skaters from one country’s team on the ice at the same time. I would definitely actually watch/care if the male, female and pairs had to all skate at the same time. Who wouldn’t watch that?

5. I was soaking wet for six hours straight today. I mean actually soaking wet, straight through, gave up on even trying for dry-ness. You know what happens after six hours? You forget what it’s like to have ever been dry.

6. I am trying to brainstorm what would be similar to grilled cheese, except we don’t have any cheese for me to make grilled cheese. So far I have come up with possibly Bagel Bites or cereal. Neither of which sounds anything like grilled cheese.

7. I super love this story I wrote about what happens to Olympic torches and also this story about NCAA triathlon (which is a more fleshed-out version of what I wrote before about NCAA and triathlon). Those were my pride points for last week. Well, and the thing about one of the nuttiest people I’ve ever interviewed. But, you know, public blog, etc.

I don’t believe in countries boycotting the Olympics unless the human rights violations of the country are so egregious so as to make it impossible to look the hosts in the eye while you know they are killing people elsewhere. And, still, the case better be good. So, if you really wanted to boycott an Olympics, Beijing would have made more sense than Sochi. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Alistair Brownlee Runs a 10K and Internet Commenters Offer Free Advice

I wrote a quick story about Olympic triathlon gold medalist Alistair Brownlee running the 10K on the track at Stanford this weekend. And, to get a sense of what people thought about his chances, I browsed internet discussion boards this week — which is never a fun thing to do. On the ever-popular Slowtwitch, people were actually complaining that the 10K leg of the triathlon in the Olympics was probably not accurate because the athletes went too fast. These internet people had no basis for assuming the OLYMPIC COURSE was short, other than that the athletes had run it quickly.

Here’s a thought: Maybe they ran it fast because it was the Olympics and they’re Olympic-fucking-caliber athletes.


USAT Elite Triathlete Bulletins and the 2013 Prize Money Calendar

When you’re a registered “elite” triathlete with USA Triathlon (what most people call pro, but pro sort of denotes that you, like, make money), you receive monthly Elite Beat newsletters. I received my last one this month, since I absolutely did not renew my license for 2013 and really only did two local triathlons in 2012.

There was a big debate last year when the Olympic qualifying for the US triathlon team turned into a bit of a shit show, with some high-level athletes saying they never knew they needed to officially submit their names for such-and-such qualifying race, as opposed to just telling the coordinator they wanted to be on the list, or they didn’t know that the start lists procedures had changed. The counterpoint, at the time, was that USAT communicates with it’s elite athletes every month, so they should have known.

I’m pretty sure that we all get the same bulletin every month. I’d kind of assume there’s some other communication with US Team athletes or people living at the Olympic Training Center. But, the fall back is supposed to be that all 400-or-so of us get this same bulletin every month. I, generally, read the bulletins, because they’re fascinating. But they’re also usually a few thousand words long with lots of lists and odd information (ie. Want to try out for Olympic Sprint Team Triathlon? A new sport hoping to premier in 2016!) and it’s hard to pick out what might be relevant to you or what you absolutely need to know.

I thought other people might be interested, so here are most of the topics covered in the January bulletin, with each having a heading and some having multiple sub-categories underneath it in the email:

  • 2013 Elite National Championships
  • 2013 Non-Olympic World Championships
  • MEDEX International Insurance
  • 2013 Membership Renewal
  • 2013 Elite Money Calendar
  • Venue Change for ITU Santiago Continental Cup
  • ITU PanAmerican Cup Events
  • 2013 ITU World Cup Schedule
  • 2013 ITU World Triathlon Series Schedule
  • ITU World Cup and WTS Series Start List Creation
  • ITU Rolling Points Calendar
  • 2013 ITU WC, WTS, and PATCO Calendar with entered names listed for each event and deadlines to enter each event.

The most relevant of these — if you want to make money, I guess — is the money calendar. It’s a round-up of all the races with big prize purses this year. The PDF is too big to embed in the post, so here is the 2013 Prize Money Calendar.

The thing to keep in mind is if it says $50,000 prize purse, that means $25,000 per men and $25,000 per woman (yay equality!), which then  is broken up typically like this:

  1. $10,000
  2. $5,500
  3. $3,500
  4. $2,500
  5. $2,000
  6. $1,500

So, if you get 7th at a big $50,000 race like Vineman or Oceanside, you’re walking home with no money. And it’s not like 7th place is easy — 7th woman at Vineman was Joanna Lawn and 7th man at Oceanside was Chris McDonald. No slouches!

(And, yes, sure, they may get sponsorship deals depending on who they are and who they know and all that. But, remember, this is triathlon. It’s not like companies are paying out lots of salaries.) I’m not saying you should feel bad for anyone; I’m just saying this is how it is. Thought some people might find this information interesting.