No gold medalist gets to the podium on her own. Take Dutch speedskater Ireen Wust, who won the Olympic gold medal at the women's 3,000 meters on Sunday afternoon. For those who want a taste of the Olympics and can speak Dutch, there's a job waiting for you at IreenWust.com. "Ireen is looking for someone who can translate the Web site content!" the site says. "If you are interested in this very exciting job, please mail the webmaster!" Most Americans, I'm guessing, have never been on Wust's website (the Dutch version, at least). But if you skate over to it, you'll see a photo of the Wust with GULD!!! as the headline. Wust is ahead of the Internet curve among those athletes who have found gold in Turin.
In the States, the web has increasingly become a venue for athletes to interact with fans, as well as a way to bypass the press to deliver both exciting and mundane news. Since I was sequestered to the main media center this afternoon, I decided to surf around cyberspace to see how fast news of victory had traveled to an athlete's official site.
France's Antoine Deneriaz (http://www.antoine-deneriaz.com/), who stunned the field to win the men's downhill, offers his site in both French and English. The French part is très bien. There's footage of Deneriaz skiing in various races, with the French announcers doing their best Myron Cope imitations. The English part ("To ski and in particular of the descent out of World cup was for me a dream, today it became a passion and to ski as quickly as possible goal") needs a bit of work. Deneriaz's motto is "Work will play" and he needs some work in updating his status. As of 10 p.m. Turin time, his site referred to him merely as French three-time champ. You are the man, my man. Get that site updated, ASAP.
Jennifer Heil's site had no such issues. Those who clicked onto the site of Olympic moguls champ (http://www.jenniferheil.com/) were greeted by a James Earl Jonesesque voice that boomed: PRESENTING JEN HILE. 2006 OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALIST!). The official site for Germany's Georg Hettich (http://www.georg-hettich.de/home.htm), the gold medalist in the Nordic Combined individual event, had some amazing photographs of Hettich but about the only thing I could make out was that one of his hobbies was snowboarden. No mention of his gold. Same deal with countryman Michael Heis (http://www.michael-greis.de/), the winner of the 20-kilometer individual biathlon. Alas, there was no site for Kristina Smigun, the Estonian who won gold in the 15-kilometer cross-country pursuit. Though he has one of the coolest nicknames in sport -- The Cannibal -- I also could not find a site for Italy's Armin Zoeggeler, who won the men's luge and his country's first gold medal.
As for the home folks, it was a mixed cyber-bag. If you were on ShaunWhite.com six hours after he won gold, you would have no idea he was in Turin. When I tried Bode.com, I ended up with a new civil rights lawyer. I thought about joining Bode (http://www.joinbode.com) but the site informed me that I needed Flash 8 Player to check it out. Flash 8 was three places higher than the fifth Miller finished in the downhill. The official site of Chad Hedrick (http://www.chadhedrick.com) proved to be as prodigious as the speedskater. It linked to a story in the Washington Post, footage of the race and tells you when Chad's next race is. That's in addition to a state-of-the-art site with a link to Chad's favorite songs of the moment (No. 5: Kanye West - Gold Digger)
Of course the U.S. Olympian that likely drew the most traffic Sunday was Michelle Kwan. The web serves many functions, including therapist and grievance counselor. The first message in the Michelle Kwan Forum's MK Chat (http://www.mkforum.net/forum/) came in at 4:06 a.m.. The instructions were to leave a positive message for Michelle. Dear Michelle, I know this is a difficult time and all for you, but rest assured, your fans are still behind you 100 percent of the way. You still Rach! Any injury can be overcome, you just need to have hope. Here's hoping to see you in 2010! With love, Charmed On. There was another discussion that carried the header of "Where were you when you heard about Michelle's withdrawing from the Olympics?"
Such surfing drew me back to the Web site of Carl Lewis (http://www.CarlLewis.com), which in my opinion is the best of any Olympic athlete. Ever. For starters, you can learn about Carl in seven languages (English, French Spanish, German, Italian, Japanese and Chinese). And this site just doesn't give you Carl's story: Lewis (he's a working actor in Los Angeles) narrates the seven-minute bio himself. There's also Carl's acting reel and an entertaining and frequently updated blog, where Lewis takes no prisoners. "It has always been amazing to me that Craig Masback (Chief Executive Officer of USA Track & Field) can stand up and say that track and field is more popular than it has ever been," Lewis wrote in a recent entry. "In fact that's downright laughable." When I met Lewis in Athens in 2004, he talked with passion about how much he put into his site.
If she's still looking tomorrow, Wust ought to hire him.