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Olympic athletes score big on Facebook

The achievements of many Olympic athletes have translated into a surge in their popularity on the social network.

Screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET

Following their amazing performances in the Olympics, many of the world's top athletes now have a lot more Facebook fans.

With the summer games coming to a finale yesterday, their influence on Facebook was examined in a report released today by Wildfire, Google's new social media marketing business.

Gold medal Olympic gymnast Gabrielle Douglas now boasts more than 590,000 Facebook fans, a surge of 3,944 percent since before the games. The page for fellow gymnast Marcel Nguyen holds more than 197,000 fans, an increase of 2,451 percent.

Athletes such as Steve Lewis, Camille Muffat, and Automne Pavia have the most "engaged" fans, Wildfire said, based on the number of likes, comments, and posts from the athlete shared by others.


Certain countries are also benefiting from the increased Facebook attention to their Olympic champions.

Jamaica is getting top exposure (likes per user) on the network due to sprinter Usain Bolt, whose Facebook page dubs him "the fastest man in the world" and has garnered more than 8 million fans at this point.

Switzerland has the second highest global reach on Facebook, according to Wildfire, thanks to top tennis player Roger Federer, whose Facebook page has attracted more than 11 million fans. And Russia is ranked third for global exposure on the social network due to the efforts of fellow tennis pro Maria Sharapova, who has almost 8 million Facebook fans.

Dubbing the London games, the first "social Olympics," the report found that followers of the Olympics were much more socially engaged than were fans of other events.

The growth in Facebook fans for Olympic athletes was seven times higher than for the 2012 Tour De France and nine times higher than for the 2012 UEFA Football Championship. The Union of European Football Associations represents the fanatically-popular sport of European football, or soccer as it's known in the U.S.

The London games also attracted nine times more Facebook users than did the 2008 Beijing Olympics and four times more than did the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Of course, social media has also become a larger part of our lives since those past two Olympics.

And while Twitter proved a major source of information for the summer games, Facebook scored the highest numbers, according to Wildfire.

Across the social media landscape, 96 percent of the most popular athletes had larger followings on Facebook than they did on Twitter. And the median number of Facebook fans for the top contenders was five times larger than the median number of Twitter followers.