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The first-ever Youth Winter Olympic Games wrapped up in Innsbruck, Austria on Sunday and a big part of the games had nothing to do with race times or medals. Instead, social media was embraced as a mandatory element of games-time participation for athletes and other accredited participants.

Unlike previous games, where rights-holding broadcasters and a limited amount of accredited reporters from traditional media outlets were allowed to write and publish pictures about the games, this time around the athletes, volunteers, spectators and officials were encouraged to use social media during the games,

Rob Clancy, a television producer who worked for the Olympic Broadcasting Services in Innsbruck, said he noticed a lot more Facebook posts in the lead up to the games and that athletes were encouraged to use social media, “which means it’s something that the [International Olympic Committee] is very aware of and wants to embrace rather than be fearful of.”

The IOC has embraced social media so much that they even released guidelines for any accredited personnel on how to use social media during the Youth Olympics. Participants were encouraged to write in a first-person, non-commercial way that banned obscenities and the posting of videos of competitions or ceremonies (likely due to a conflict with their own broadcasting services, which captured video footage).

A ‘Culture and Education program’ was a mandatory part of the Games for athletes, and included team-building exercises and social media workshops for athletes and volunteers to teach them how to use popular sites like Facebook and Twitter responsibly.

And since there was no live-TV coverage, media volunteers live-Tweeted the results of the races and games and received instant feedback from Twitter users who wanted to follow the games back home.

To give you an idea of how much social media has changed the communication of Olympic officials, at the start of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games, the IOC had five Facebook fans and now it has millions through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and its other social media channels.

An officially-sponsored contest which had Olympic fans copy a photo of their favourite athletes in order to win a trip to the London 2012 Games could only be entered through Twitter. With over 100,000 unique visitors to the contest’s website since mid-November 2011, it’s no wonder the IOC has embraced their Twitter platform.

Back to the athletes, social media was even used to help the Canadian men’s ice hockey team (who finished with a bronze medal). The players used social media to bond, since they were selected from across the country by a draw and had never played with each other before the games.

The boys had one day in Toronto where they met and did some team-building exercises, but used the Internet to otherwise interact.

So, were you surprised to learn that social media is now a dominant part of the world of top-class athletes? How do you think the IOC should use social media for the upcoming London 2012 Olympic Games?

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