Australian swimmer Emily Seebohm went into Monday’s 100-meter backstroke Olympic final as the hot favorite. She ended up with the silver, but what surprised people most was that her race time was significantly slower than what she clocked in the previous day’s heat. Even Canada’s Missy Franklin, who took the gold, came in with a slower time.
Shortly after the race, 20-year-old Seebohm came up with an excuse never before uttered by an Olympian, but one which certainly reflects the technological age we now live in.
You see, according to Seebohm, she messed up because she stayed up too long the night before the big race responding to messages of encouragement on Twitter and Facebook.
“I guess when you swim that fast in the heat, then people put pressure and more pressure on you, saying, ‘Oh, you’re going to get the gold.'” Seebohm told Australian reporters after her loss. “Maybe I just started believing that and just thought I’d already won by the time I had swum and I hadn’t even swum yet.
“I don’t know, I just felt like I didn’t really get off (social media) and get into my own mind.”
“You’re going to win gold”
She said that with so many people telling her via social media sites that she was going to win gold, she simply started to believe it. “When they tell you a thousand times you are going to get it, somewhere in your mind you are just like, ‘I’ve done it’. But I hadn’t and that was a big learning curve and I obviously need to sign out of Twitter and log out of Facebook a lot sooner than I did.”
Seebohm later said her disappointing performance was also down to nerves, and not just the social media sites. However, the Aussie swimming team’s coach, Matt Brown, clearly sees the likes of Facebook and Twitter as a major distraction.
“I’d love to throw away some of those phones,” he said. “That’s the age we are living in. Emily has already learned that no matter how experienced you are you keep learning.”
The Social Media Games
In the run up to the London Olympics, there was much talk of it being the most connected Games ever, but most reports focused on sports fans rather than the participants.
These days, many high profile athletes have Facebook and Twitter accounts, with masses of devoted followers tracking their every post and tweet. At a time when they’d be better off focusing on their upcoming event, it seems some, like Seebohm, are getting caught up in the online conversation.
Speaking before the Games began, Sebastian Coe, the chairman of the London 2012 organizing committee and himself a two-time Olympic gold medalist, said, “I have found quite a close correlation between the number of tweets at competitive times and the level of under-performance.”
Coe continued, “From a personal perspective, when I was an athlete I just wanted complete and total focus,” he said. “I knew it was my time and that they don’t come around that often. If I was focusing on trying to defend a title I wouldn’t be reading Twitter, I wouldn’t be interested in it. Why would I?”
Aussie shooter Alethea Sedgman said that while it was good to keep in touch with family and friends, it was better to “focus without Facebook.”
The British Olympic Association (BOA) have even gone as far as to draw up a list of guidelines for its athletes regarding social media.
“Don’t forget your rivals may be reading,” the BOA warns. “Other competitors may gain confidence if they read any comments you make about poor form in training, feeling tired, upset or low on confidence.”
Whether Seebohm’s experience makes other athletes sit up and take notice remains to be seen. Hopefully any social media addiction won’t get so bad that we start seeing runners, smartphone in hand, snapping photos of themselves as they cross the finishing line, and then posting it on Facebook just prior to collecting their (silver?) medal on the podium.