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Web gets an Olympian workout

How did anyone ever watch the Olympics before the Web?

The Summer Olympics that opens July 19 in Atlanta will kick off marathon Web surfing, perhaps less physically taxing than the real thing but so strenuous for the network that experts are predicting Internet brownouts for peak viewing hours.

This is the first Olympics since the Internet exploded in American homes and no Net vendor wants to miss an opportunity to exploit the Games' marketing value. Everyone who can think of something is devising a technology showcase related to the Games. And it should work--sites closely identified with the Olympics are gearing up for millions of hits a day.

IBM nabbed the prime marketing spot as the vendor behind the official site for the Atlanta Olympics. By selling tickets and memorabilia from the site, the company says is testing technology to improve the performance of databases that perform transactions over the Net.

For those that don't go to Atlanta, one low-impact way to keep up with the Olympics from afar will be MedalWatch, which will offer users of Netscape Communications' Navigator browser personalized Olympic updates based on their interests: swimming or gymnastics, track and field or baseball. Based on a direct feed from USA Today, MedalWatch will send the results to users automatically as long as the Net connection is maintained.

"We are the only Web site that will deliver results to the desktop in real time," said Bob Schoettle, vice president of marketing for Wayfarer Communications, which is providing the technology for MedalWatch. "Others will be user requested. With ours, as soon as the event finishes, the results come to the desktop."

PointCast Network has added a similar service to its customizable news and information broadcasting application by adding a Summer Games "channel" or information category. The channel will let viewers track up to 33 Olympic events with results broadcast directly to the computer.

The most-hyped technology for Olympic coverage is NBC's Intercast broadcasts of the Olympics that will combine live TV coverage with Web site downloads available to users with an Intel Intercast card.

But Intercast coverage won?t be available to many people. Hauppauge Computer Works just started shipping an Intercast add-on card and Intercast-enabled PCs from Compaq Computer will be out for the Olympics ? as long as you buy them from CompUSA in Atlanta, the only market where they are expected to be available in time for the Games.

In addition to the Intercast broadcasts, the NBC Olympic site will offer 3,000-plus pages of information to supplement NBC?s 70 hours of Olympic coverage, including daily chats, photos, audio and video recaps.

If that?s not enough, head over to ESPNet SportZone, where a whole other kind of Olympics games is being played. The Gold Medal Challenge gives players a country to name, design a flag if they want, then select 15 athletes or teams from among Olympians. Players whose "national team" wins the most medals win prizes. The site also lists every Olympic medalist in every sport in Modern Olympics history.

Sports Illustrated?s SI Online will be another good site for settling Olympics trivia bets.

AT&T has created home pages for the 26 U.S. Olympians it is sponsoring, including each athlete's favorite Web links. The company's Olympics Web site also provides a "live" video feed of events or an aerial view of the Olympic Village when no actual events are happening.

Similarly, CNN is offering virtual tours of Olympic venues using Apple Computer?s QuickTime VR technology.

And for the authentic on-line sports bar fan, Sun Microsystems and House of Blues are creating a JavaJoint site to chronicle the Atlanta and the Olympics scene with live music and chats with top performers and athletes.

Sun is also installing nearly 100 Java Network Computer prototypes for on-site visitors in Atlanta to take in Web coverage of the Games.

At this rate, by the time the next Games roll around, sports fans may even be able to buy the official Olympics Internet appliance instead of a T-shirt.

Related stories:
PointCast to let Games begin online
Intel, NBC to cover Olympics on PC-TV
Hauppauge offering card for Intercast
IBM goes through Olympic trials