Top Stories from the Sports pages of the International Herald Tribune,
Saturday, July 27, 1996

Games Lost in Cyberspace, IBM Site Is Slow and Messy

By Brad Spurgeon International Herald Tribune
Before the 1996 Olympic Games began, it was announced as a technological breakthrough. For the first time, using the World Wide Web, millions of people around the world would have direct access to Olympic results and other information as if they were in Atlanta.

Well, guess what. If the Internet is all hype, the official 1996 Olympic Games Web site ( is par for the course.

Operated by IBM and the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, the site is a microcosm of the Net. It is an anarchic mess, rich with information and misinformation about the Olympics. It is slow moving, unwieldy, nonuser friendly and too often unavailable.

Thanks to IBM's ambitious attempt to make these the most electronically advanced Olympics ever, many of the most basic services have not worked. Particularly the reception of the event results.

Why all this failure?

''It's like having a baby,'' said Ronda Rattray, the Atlanta committee's content coordinator for the site. ''You plan and you prepare, but you don't know until you get there that all of a sudden you've got twins. Then you've got to back up and start readjusting.''

IBM and the Atlanta Olympic committee were caught by both the massive amount of information to be transferred to the Web site and by the number of users logging on. Rattray said the latest report showed the home page was accessed 7 million times and the results page 5 million times in a single day.

Part of the reason the up-to-the-minute results have been failing to get to the Web site, according to Rattray, is that the officials at the sporting venues simply forget to press the right button.

But even so this Web site is chaotically organized.

For example, even several days after Saturday's men's heavyweight judo finals, it was practically impossible to find that David Douillet of France had won the gold medal. A user might go from pages like ''Results'' to ''Judo'' to ''Participants'' without success.

Douillet's biography page contained his ''Federation Id 0031785,'' but not his recent results or even information about his career. Virtually the only way to find Douillet's results was to put his name in the site's search engine, which is in small print at the bottom of the home page.

But the Web project was done with grand intentions.

''We don't care whether you came in first or last,'' said Rattray, referring to the athletes. ''We're going to put your name in there, and what your score was. The Internet gives you the ability to see everything. Whatever you want.''

If you know where to look.

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