Sunday, July 1, 2012

This summer’s Olympics in London will be shaped by social media like no sporting event in history. But 20 years ago, when figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi took home the gold medal at the 1992 games in France, social media was an unheard of concept.

Yamaguchi became a household name and global celebrity. But without Twitter, Facebook and other platforms, that experience was much different for her than it will be for this summer’s Olympic stars.

Long since retired from skating, Yamaguchi now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and two daughters. Most of her time is devoted to her Always Dream children’s foundation. (She also won Dancing With the Stars in 2008.) But a couple of years ago, she says, she got hooked on Twitter as well first as way to follow volunteer organizations and breaking news, then as a prolific tweeter herself, posting about family life, health and sports. Yamaguchi’s frequent interactions with fans and positive messages have gained her more than 33,000 followers.

She says she’ll be using Twitter to track the 2012 Olympics, and that gymnast Nastia Liukin and swimmer Ryan Lochte are two of her favorite follows. As a former Olympian, though, Yamaguchi is aware of the challenges that life in the always-on era of social media brings.

“Now you have to be smart about what you’re putting out there, because once you do it’s there forever,” she says. “It’s harder for young athletes to think about how it might affect them down the line or cause controversy, because people are very opinionated online and also braver to speak out online. You can’t read everything that’s there, because otherwise you’ll just go crazy with the things people say about you.”

So given the pros and cons, does Yamaguchi think she would have embraced Twitter 20 years ago the way she does now?

“If I was competing in this day and age, I would for sure be using it,” she says. “Times have changed and people kind of want it and expect it now, but I would have loved to use it to reach out to fans.”