The biggest sporting event of the year starts this Friday in Atlanta. If you have neither the tickets to attend nor the patience to watch two weeks worth of TV, don't worry. The Internet can give an in-depth look at the XXVI Olympic Games that can satisfy every member of your family.
This marks the first time that the Internet will play an important role in presenting the event. It's fitting that the technology that stitches the world together is paying tribute to the modern Games that, in its 100 years, has done much the same thing.
The place to start a cybertour is the official Olympic site in the World Wide Web (http://www.atlanta.olympic.org). For family members who appreciate the pageantry of the Games, the site lists who will perform at the opening and closing ceremonies. It also has order forms for official souvenirs and even tickets.
But its real utility is the well-organized "Upcoming Events" section, which lists when all the events will be held, along with histories and guides to the individuals and teams to watch. Family members can pick the televised events they don't want to miss.
For children, the Internet has plenty of variety to keep them interested. For example, point them to Sports Illustrated for Kids. (The Web address is so long it's better to go to Infoseek's search page - http://www.infoseek.com - then click on "Atlanta Games Guide," which will lead to the Sports Illustrated site and other Olympic-related sites.) The on-line sports magazine includes profiles of selected athletes written in a way that a 10-year-old can understand.
There's also an intriguing feature on what it takes to qualify for the US team. If you want a real shot at becoming an Olympian, try to specialize in less-popular sports like archery or kayaking, the magazine counsels. Making the basketball "Dream Team" or the US baseball team is much, much more competitive.
My favorite children's site comes from AT&T (http://www.olympic.att.com). Using software called Shockwave, which you can download for free, the site lets children (and anyone else) try their hand at various Olympic sports. Basically, this is an on-line video game that is surprisingly competitive.
Parents might want to join their children on a visit to Encyclopedia Britannica's Olympic site (http://sports.eb.com). Users can view everything from a history of an event (including the hopelessly disorganized Games early on in Paris) to more than 200 biographies of past Olympians to a detailed diagram of the official badminton court.
The sports fans in your family will have a slew of sites to choose from. SportsLine (http://ps1.sportsline.com) has a complete section on the Games, although many of the features require users to sign up for membership. Another popular Internet sports site, ESPNET SportsZone at http://web1.starwave.com, lets users create their own fantasy country and "recruit" any 15 athletes or teams from around the world. If their country wins the most gold medals, SportsZone promises valuable prizes.
More sports news, as well as a television schedule, is available from NBC (http://www.olympic.nbc.com), which is broadcasting the games. But its real strength is the behind-the-scenes, human-interest reporting on the athletes who are coming to the games. Some of the profiles are truly stirring.
Atlanta fans will want to check out the Atlanta Constitution's Olympic site (http://www.atlantagames.com) for a more localized flavor of the Games.
My favorite Olympic site comes from NBC's new joint venture with Microsoft (http://www.msnbc.com). Surf through its "Olympic Images," and they will remind even the most avid America-firster that the real gold of these Games is not medals, but the triumph of the human spirit.
*Message me at firstname.lastname@example.org) or visit my In Cyberspace forum at http://www.csmonitor.com