Building a Social Athlete

I’m going to the athlete village in a few hours to hang out (1600 to 1800, Wednesday) and be the resident geek for any athletes who want some advice on how to launch a blog and use Web 2.0 tools to tell their stories, share their experiences and build their careers – athletic or professional or both. Figuring it would be good to actually think about the topic before arriving in our International iLounge, I thought I’d post some thoughts and seek some input from my faithful readers.

Why would an athlete blog? I can’t speak for anybody else’s motivation, I know I am propelled by an itch to write, a raging ego, and an inner nerd that likes to mess around with new stuff. But if I project myself into the Nikes of a 25 year-old elite athlete, I would be looking for the following:

  1. Recognition. The investment of time, practice, and pain is considerable. An athlete performing at the world level is sacrificing school, career, and free time to train, travel and compete. The first return, at the very least, should be acknowledgment of that sacrifice.
  2. Support. A blog is an excellent way to provide supporters with a channel to leave their cheers and questions. Those supporters can be a family many time zones away, friends and alumni from former lives, a former teacher, fellow teammates, and sponsors
  3. Sponsorship. As brands invest in athletes they are going to make blogging a requirement. Whether the sponsor provides editorial and technical support, or a sports marketing agency offers it, or a sport federation (like USRowing) gets in on the action, high visibility athletes will see blogging show up in their contracts more than ever. For an athlete seeking financial support (and most are), a blog is the single most effect way to get recognition and attention to one’s cause, particularly in the non-mainstream sports that have fierce sets of fans, but no attention from the mainstream sporting press.
  4. Satisfaction: for some people, not all, a blog and all that goes with it can be a very personally gratifying experience. It is not for everybody, but for people who like to write, who like to photograph, who have fun with a video camera, who like to build connections and relationships through technology … well, I personally regard this stuff as one of the highlights of my day, but I’m an old reporter who like to write and needs to share it. Some athletes will love it, others will dread it. But ….

Enough preamble, now to the practical 1-2-3 steps to follow. Loyal readers can skip this. But for someone coming to this stuff for the first time, here’s the basics:

  1. Permission. Does your sport or event have any rules regarding blogging by athletes? Find that out first. The IOC has guidelines for all sorts of athlete activities and I would counsel a would-be sports blogger to read them, understand them, discuss them with an agent, attorney, parent, or friend. The first thing is not to do anything that would endanger one’s eligibility or permission to participate.
  2. Blogs: do-it-yourself or quick-and-dirty. A DIY blog offers some better branding if you can register yourname-dot-com. If the athlete has a technical background or inclination, a self-hosted blog can be both fun and frustrating. For the rest of us, there are several excellent free hosted blog services such as Google’s Blogger. WordPress. Typepad. Etc. My advice – ask around, a lot of Lenovo’s athletes went with Blogger. I am a WordPress guy (self-hosted). The registration process is drop-dead simple. So, open the blog first – everything else (pictures, videos) plugs into it. Pick the name carefully, make it something that can be easily communicated verbally and remembered (if you have business cards have the address printed on them).
  3. Tools of the trade: get a good PC (an IdeaPad or ThinkPad with a SD slot for the little camera card: any athlete who wants a discount should find me for my discount code).
    1. Software – pretty much a web browser is all that is needed. Some photo software can’t hurt (Adobe Photoshop Elements is a great tool, but $$$).
    2. Video – definitely look at the PureDigital FlipCam – at $150 with an hour’s capacity and no software or wires, it is a good tool but terrible on recording audio outdoors.
    3. Camera – a decent (3+ million megapixel) digital camera is key.
  4. Accounts: along with the blog two other accounts are needed for putting pictures and videos into a blog. For Photos – there are a ton of solutions. Google Picasa is good if one is a “Googly Person,” Flickr is my photo host of choice. Both have little tools that allow one to easily upload photos right onto one’s account. So, after lighting up a blog, light up a photo service. Then go to YouTube and register for an account there. All of this stuff is free. (Flickr Pro account permits unlimited uploads for a small annual fee)

Now, what to write about? How often? What works? What doesn’t?

I wish I had an easy answer. A lot has been written about “how to blog” – some people are very focused and particular about what they write and put a lot of care into it. Typos, misspellings … I am relaxed about such stuff and have a tendency to publish first and correct later. Topics? You can take on the world’s issues, you can talk about what you just had for dinner (actually diet is probably a fascinating issue for many athletes to share and discuss). Just be interesting. Relax. It’s only the entire world that can read it!

I would emphasize:

  • brevity (which I am not doing in this post)
  • bullets – put your points into little chunks like this
  • pictures (people like to see some images in the middle of a big snake of text)

Comments and Community

The blog is launched, it has a few posts about the upcoming competition. The design is nice. Some pictures are posted. People are now figuring out it exists. How? Well, first you tell the world by linking to other bloggers in your sport. Think about blogs as a big …. Web …. Of interconnected blogs. You link to one blog that blogger will be notified automatically (it’s called a trackback), you comment on another blog and happen to drop your blog’s address in there ….. Building an audience is about building connections. That’s a topic for another discussion in more detail.

As the audience arrives, so will the comments. Your mother will probably post the first one. Or a teammate. Or a coach. Reply. Say hi. Read your comments. Check them religiously. Don’t pay attention to jerks, anonymous idiots, or spammers. Delete them.

Be aware the press is going to discover your blog. As an ex-reporter I can attest that reporters love a good quote and like the rest of us their search begins on Google. If they need a quote from a water polo goalie and the blog is “optimized” correctly, expect a phone call or an email.

Sponsors and branding

Your sponsor is going to want some recognition, maybe your sport’s federation as well. Help them out. Put their logos on the blog. Give them some recognition and they will appreciate it. If they are like Lenovo they will also help pull this altogether, but I would advise, in fact demand, that ghostwriting and management of the blog by another person, especially a sponsor, not be permitted. If you have a PR person, sure, have them help. But don’t let a sponsor or any third party put words in public that you didn’t write or at least approve yourself. Readers can sense that from a distance and to invoke the Social Media Cliché – it’s gotta be authentic.


  1. It’s fun. Keep it that way and you’ll keep it alive.
  2. It’s cheap. Don’t spend money on it.
  3. It takes patience. A lot of traffic and recognition won’t happen overnight. Don’t do it for the numbers.
  4. It’s better than a diary or a scrapbook. It’s your blog and it’s yourself made digital and shared online with the world.
  5. People care. Sports is one of the planet’s universal passions. We’re all fans at some level. This is how we can all get out of the stands, out from behind the television and reach out and actually touch the most important people of all – you, the athletes. To hear Elle Logan tell the story of her gold medal race, of the strategy, the inside jokes, the move they made at 1000 meters. NBC and EuroSport can’t tell that tale. Only you can. Tell it!


tecosystems » What I Learned Today: Shellfish, Fisheries, Oil, and More

Mister O’Grady is on vacation in Wellfleet, and posts an excellent discussion on the state of shellfishing, invasive species, and other bellwethers of coastal life. Good fodder for the lagging clamming content lately. I have seen no Chinese clams yet.

“What I did on the Day Two of my vacation: visited an oyster farm in Wellfleet, MA. For serious. These sustainable – “call it green, sustainable, whatever you want” said one oyster farmer today – shellfish fisheries are an interesting canary in the coal mine in several respects. As we’ll see.”

tecosystems » What I Learned Today: Shellfish, Fisheries, Oil, and More.

Non-olympic weirdness

Nestor, who I met at the Wall and at the USA House, and who is a digital dude, had this on his agency bio.

It was too good not to share. Meet “Speak: The Hungarian Rapper”

Pure gold

Caroline Lind and Elle Logan, US Women's 8+ Gold Medalists

Caroline Lind on the left, Elle Logan on the right. Gold medal in rowing in the women’s eight.I think everyone at the USA House tonight asked for a picture with the two champions. The excitement was infectious.

Mid-Game Lenovo Athlete Blogger Update

Welcome to the last week of the Beijing Olympics. I wanted to look at how the heart of our online activation of our sponsorship is going, and let you know about some good content being generated by the athletes.

First, for some background on the project, we issued a press release today that can be found here at MarketWatch. The nut of the release is:

“Lenovo has provided IdeaPad and other notebook PCs and video cameras to more than 100 athletes from more than 25 countries and 29 sports who are participating in the program. Their blogs are presented on the website To date, there have been 1,374 athlete postings on the forum, reaching more than 8.5 million Olympic fans through conversations on third-party blogs and social media sites.”

This is a pretty complex social media play, so bear with me.

  1. These are athlete owned and produced blogs. Lenovo has no editorial oversight on what they write and photograph. The only guideline applied is the IOC’s Rule 41. These are the first Games where athletes have been permitted to blog after the opening ceremonies, and so far there have been few to no restrictions applied.
  2. The plan is to aggregate – or collect in one place – all the blog posts, biographies of the athletes, and provide linkage to …
    1. A YouTube channel: LenovoAthleteBlogger
    2. A Flickr photoset
    3. A Twitter stream: Lenovo2008
  3. Lenovo promotes the primary page – or – through a banner campaign on Federated Media’s network of blogs. Promote blogs on blogs, right? Right, so we’re building dynamic banners that refresh with the content posted by the athletes and running it automatically through the Federated network.
  4. In Europe the European Broadcast Union is hosting most, if not all, of the country specific video of the Games. We’re a primary sponsor, running pre-roll and display ads to the tune of many, many millions of impressions. Due to IP targeting, this program is only visible in Europe. Those clicks are going to the Voices of the Olympic Games page.
  5. In the US there is a major program in place on Those clicks are not going to the bloggers, but a landing page on that explains our sponsorship of the Games and role as the lead technology provider and designer of the Olympic torch.
  6. We’re running paid search and bidding on some Olympic terms and sports related to our bloggers and their sports. The idea is to find the athletes’ fans and make them aware that a channel exists for them to follow their favorite sport.

How to declare success? I think there are three vectors to success in this program.

From a purely selfish point of view, the best part of this project has been meeting the athlete bloggers and seeing how genuinely excited they are to hear those words that thrill any blogger: “I read your blog.” They started off doing this to let their friends and family know what they are up to. Then suddenly, some, like India’s first individual gold medalist, Abhinav Bindra, have a place for an entire nation to offer their congratulations. One second he had 30 comments on a post. An hour after winning gold he had a thousand! My thanks go to them, because this is their project in the end.

Purely selfish photo of your humble narrator with US epee fencer/blogger Capt. (USAF) Seth Kelsey who “gets to travel all over the world and stab people with swords.”

Having a team on the ground to drive the content creation has proven invaluable and I couldn’t have asked for more than Rohit Bhargava and Kaitlyn Wilkins from Ogilvy’s 360 Digital Influence Project. They have been tirelessly roaming the streets of Beijing, interviewing reporters, snapping photos, tweeting away on Twitter, helping me cover this vast project while I do the thing in the war room. Back home, the team of Esteban Panzeri, Alan White and Tim Supples are keeping the sites live and building the infrastructure, delivering the PCs and cameras … the details and logistics have been staggering. Here in China, Yan An for his diplomacy with the IOC and Sheji Ho for his interactive expertise.

I have no doubt the second half of this program will be just as interesting and surprising as the first. I guess that’s the fun part of all this for an adrenaline fiend like myself – it all changes hour by hour.

Here’s Seth Kelsey on YouTube talking about blogging.

China for the win

You definitely want to be in the grandstand when a Chinese team wins a gold medal. I was surrounded by Chinese in the last grandstand, right on the finish line. Here they are going insane as the women’s quad (four scullers) wins right at the very end.

Ten minutes later, everybody is back on their feet and belting out the Chinese National Anthem. It was cool. The people were proud and they should be, these Olympics defy criticism and the Chinese are excellent hosts.

Persimmons to Empachers

My day (which ends in 27 minutes) started near the Ming Tombs, at 5 am at a very nice house. I didn’t want to wake anybody so I walked the grounds — an old persimmon orchard — and snapped some shots. I ate a persimmon the night before – my friend told me Americans never really get to experience them because they are hard to cultivate and serve. The trees must be grafted onto rootstock to thrive, and then, when the fruit is ripe (it resembles an apple) and the leaves have fallen, the fruit should be ripened in powdered lime (the mineral, not the citrus) or in a warm place for two days. It was served nearly frozen and spooned out of the center. I liked it but wouldn’t go crazy for the next one.

As I walked the path clicking away I could hear the fruit randomly proving Newton’s point with a dull thud – a measure of how quiet it was where the farm was located… the steep hills to the north are where the Great Wall passed, and to the east is the ancestral burial grounds of the Ming dynasty (which was replaced by the Qing Dynasty, the final one before the Nationalists (The “Last Emperor” was a Qing) took power.

More China orchard shots here.

I drove back into the city and met some of the Lenovo Athlete bloggers at a round of Olympic table tennis at Beijing University. I sat next to Seth Kelsey, the American fencer, saw Joshia Ng the Malaysian track cyclist (Keiren) and David Oliver the American track star. There were others, but I was rude, didn’t introduce myself as that would have been rude in the middle of a game and could only stay a half-hour (but saw some ferocious volleys involving a determined Hong Kong player) before I went to the Olympic Green to dodge the SBD’s (“Silent But Deadlies”, what I call the electric vehicles that creep up behind you),  and admire some dedicated national pride at work. I will never contemplate painting my face after seeing this work of art.

Then I checked out of our Showcase on the Green, took off the Lenovo uniform shirt affectionately nicknamed “The Oven Mitt” by those who admire it’s bulletproof, flame retardent qualities, and made my way to Shunyi to watch the rowing. This was the high point of the day. Dave’s very own “Chariots of Fire” moment.  I saw true greatness before my very eyes.

Dinner? An astonishingly awesome Chinese meal of cucumbers and chili, black bean spareribs, roasted eggplant, smoked rice, and beef and peppers and onions, two Tsingtaos, and home with actually enough time to upload 457 photos and write two blog posts. So, half-a-day-off, saw two sports, did a little work, and had a most profound walk amongst the persimmons.

(*Empachers are the yellow boats favored by most Olympians, I own one, and saw a lot of them today.)

USA for the Gold

I can check off the top thing I wanted to accomplish while here in Beijing: I watched the US Women’s 8+ crew win the gold medal at Shunyi, stood with my hand on my heart, and sang the words of the Star Spangled Banner as the red, white and blue went up the flagpole as the sun set to the west.

I can’t offer any intelligent play-by-play. The Americans led from the start and won by a nice margin. I expected them to win. It was an incredible spectacle to witness – from start to finish to medal ceremony to the victory lap before the grandstands. If you ever get the chance to be at an Olympic Games in person and be at an event where your country wins, then count yourself very fortunate, it’s pretty emotional.

I was rooting specifically for one rower, Elle Logan of Boothbay, Maine, who rowed at The Brooks School in North Andover, Mass. (my alma mater) with my daughter. Together they won the second of Elle’s two national high school championships, Elle going on to Stanford. This is, I believe, the third Olympic medal won by a Brooks rower – the others being Gene Clapp in ’72 and Douglas Burden in Barcelona and Atlanta in ’92 and ’96. Congratulations Elle!

The Victory Lap

Inside the last 250 meters in the sprint.

More photos here.


Weather — perfect

Wednesday’s rains flushed the skies and last night’s weather for the opening of the track-and-field events was more than perfect, almost freaky perfect, with a big full moon climbing out of the southeastern sky, and the Fragrant Hills orange in the sunset.

I woke up this morning to more of the same. Sweet. I was beginning to think I’d never draw a chestful of air again. Here’s hoping this sticks around for the marathon. Have a press panel today on the impact of blogging on the Olympics, then have to switch back to the old hotel, then onto the big marketing push (even bigger than the one we’ve unleashed) to close out the rest of the Games. Ten days and I’m home. I think this is exactly the mid-point.

Huge thanks to Nicole Estebanell at Neo, Gary Milner and Rahul Agarwal at Lenovo. They’ve accomplished a miracle in the last four days and they know what I am talking about …..

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