Sean Coughlan sprints into the Olympic Village to overdose on sporting statistics and discovers a less palatable side to Atlanta. Armchair athletes everywhere will have been gorging on sport in the last fortnight, as the Olympic Games - and the terrorist bomb - in Atlanta filled television schedules and news pages around the world.
The Internet has also gone into sporting overdrive, offering its own deluge of facts and figures for those curious to know the finer details of small-bore shooting or synchronised swimming. For instance, at the ATT 1996 Olympic Games site, there has been a daily account of events, detailed profiles of athletes, a history of the Olympic games and a trainspotterish morass of information about times, points and medals.
If, like me, your attention span for sporting statistics is about as long-lasting as a 100 metres sprint, then you could have played instead with a series of mini-video clips, showing you around the Atlanta games. This site is also linked to a video camera in the Olympic Village which sends back a new picture every few seconds, giving a 24-hours-a-day, more-or-less-live snapshot of the scene in Atlanta. There was also a camera at the ill-fated Centennial Olympic Park. In practice this can mean that on your computer screen you see a picture of buildings and passers-by - or the dereliction left by the bomb - but it is still something to be sitting at your desk and peering directly into another country, without the help of a camera crew and television.
This idea has also been taken up by the Official 1996 Olympic Site, with its "Sneak Peek Cam" which carries live images from different parts of the games. This gargantuan site has even more ambitious coverage, with television and radio links provided by broadcasters in Atlanta. These are so ambitious that my own creaking computer threatened to collapse under the strain of trying to download the images, so we'll just have to assume that someone has used them.
But among the facts that were offered, I can pass on the news, officially, that over 38,000 tennis balls are scheduled to be used in the games.
The cable news channel, CNN, has also been stockpiling an armoury of Olympic information on its Internet site, with a comprehensive section on events and participants. What gives the CNN coverage a harder edge is a series of Olympic-related news stories running alongside the results. In a chilling news feature, CNN reported on the appalling poverty still to be found in Atlanta, out of sight of the corporate hospitality suites.
In one interview, an 18-year-old Atlantan mother recalled how her eight-month-old daughter had choked to death on a cockroach. The baby's father had already been shot dead in an argument outside the door of their insect-infested slum. Making the story even more poignant, the young woman had once been one of the city's most promising athletes.
It's difficult not to trip over sponsors' logos when you read anything to do with the Olympic Games. For an idea of the scale of the project from a commercial perspective, take a glance at the International Olympic Committee's Internet site. Here, along with information about the organisational structure of the so-called "lords of the rings", is a report on the revenue from sponsorship, merchandising and broadcasting rights - with a grand total of more than $3 billion currently pouring in.
The IOC's site also carries a countdown clock to the next summer games. So, in case you're wondering, it's 1,505 days until the games open again in Sydney 2000. Maybe Internet surfing will be an Olympic event by then.
ATT Olympic Games Site: http:www.olympic.att.com The Official 1996 Olympic Site: http:www.atlanta.olympic.org CNN: http:www.cnn.com The International Olympic Committee: http:www.olympic.org