When the fastest man in the world, sprinter Maurice Greene of the United States, goes for gold at the Sydney Olympics, there will be a lot less whooping and punching the air from fans back home than you might expect.
Not that Greene has lost his magic, but many faithful fans will be tucked into bed or hard at work as medals are won and lost in Sydney, which will be 14 hours ahead of New York time.
Enter the Internet. In what is being labeled the "Internet Olympics," these Games are set to dwarf previous records with tens of millions of people expected to go online at their convenience for results, commentary, and endless statistics.
"This will be the event that really sees the Internet come of age. It will be definite proof that the Net is a critical part of any sports coverage," says Franklin Servan-Schreiber, director of new media at the International Olympics Committee (IOC). Just as the Tokyo Games in 1964 were the first major test of modern-day television broadcasting, the Sydney Olympics will be the biggest test yet for the Internet. It will show how the Web copes when a worldwide audience plugs in at the same time in many different languages.
IBM, the technology heavyweight behind the official Olympics Web site (www.olympics.com), is bracing for well over a billion hits. Millions more will tap into www.nbcolympics.com, the site of the US broadcaster, NBC, and many unofficial sites, such as www.sydney2000.com.
These cheap seats don't get the best view - the IOC has banned moving images on the Internet to protect deals it struck with TV broadcasters.
While Sydney is not the first online Olympics - both the Nagano 1998 Winter Games and Atlanta 1996 Summer Games had official Web sites - the explosion in global Net use since then makes it the first real "Internet Olympics."
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society