More than 10,000 athletes are competing for glory at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London. And you can get first-hand glimpse into the action and their preparations on Twitter.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) issued social media guidelines that might make the Olympians’ tweets a little more conventional than normal during the games. However, there’s no shortage of strong personalities ready to share the experience with —one tweet at a time.
Here’s a look at 17 Olympians you should be following for the next two weeks.
1) Michael Phelps // 271,697 followers
The man with more Olympic gold medals than anyone in history is back in London to add to his tally. Phelps has won 14 individual and team events at the Olympics and will compete in a further seven in the pool this year. He’s a fairly active tweeter, despite his intensive training regime (though we’re not sure we need to hear about his nap times).
“It was nice to have @arschmitty singing #backstreetboys and #nsync today during workout today”
2) Christian Taylor // 2,177 followers
Taylor is the reigning triple jump world champion and is competing for the U.S. in the event in London. The 22-year-old has only been tweeting since February but already shows a strong grasp on how to use the community to interact with his fans, even offering advice on how to jump better. But he has a few problems in trying to stick to his diet.
“I think Salzburg has the best fries in the world! Need to stop eating them. #selfcontrol”
3) Oscar Pistorius // 51,980 followers
Pistorius will make history this summer as the first double amputee to compete in a track event at the games. The South African, known as the Blade Runner because of the prosthetic limbs he uses while running, will compete in the 400m and 4x400m relay events as well as several events at this year’s Paralympic Games. After it was revealed Pistorius made the team, tennis star Novak Djokovic (more on him later) congratulated his friend.
“Still on cloud 9 but need to keep at what got me here so off to the Gym. Thank you all who shared today with me, I really appreciate it!”
4) Chris Hoy // 99,691 followers
As a Scot, it would be remiss of me not to add Sir Chris Hoy to this list. One of Britain’s greatest Olympians, cyclist Hoy won three golds in Beijing four years ago and, at the age of 36, is not done yet. Hoy regularly tweets about other sports and admitted to channel surfing as the British Grand Prix aired at the same time as the Wimbledon gentlemen's singles final. He has a sense of humor, too.
“Just managed to convince an Aussie bloke at my hotel that I'm MI5.”
5) Lolo Jones // 168,598 followers
Lolo Jones is going into London looking to make amends for her trip at the last hurdle in the 100m hurdles event four years ago, which killed her chance of winning a gold medal many thought she was the favorite for. The 29-year-old is warming up for the games by tweeting up a storm. Even if you’re not a sports fan, Jones is worth following since, she’s whip smart, funny, and isn’t afraid to make a little fun of her followers.
“Leaving America & Flying to Europe tonight. I've asked @barackobama to have people shoot fireworks in the air tonight as a farewell send off”
6) Juan Mata // 1,147,667 followers
Although the Olympic soccer tournaments might hold less esteem for hardened soccer fans than the World Cup or European Championships, several of the countries involved are sending big-name players to bring home the gold. Brazil’s sending a star-studded squad including 20-year-old superstar Neymar. Spain, meanwhile, sent Juan Mata as part of its 18-man squad, but was eliminated Sunday. One of Spain’s three over-23 players, Mata has World Cup, European Championships, and Champions League titles to his name.
“Travelling to Gdansk. Watching a documentary about Bobby Fischer. #Genius. #Eccentric. #Chess.”
7) Stephanie Rice // 66,080 followers
The Australian swimmer has a tumultuous relationship with Twitter. She lost a sponsorship with Jaguar in 2010 after an ill-advised tweet, and she was slammed after posting a photo of herself in a swimsuit last month (despite competing while wearing swimwear). She doesn’t hold back on Twitter, and it’ll be interesting to see how closely she abides by the IOC’s rules. Rice finished sixth in the 400-meter individual medley final.
“Would like to thank News Ltd for the publicity. For another chance to see me in 'racy' swimwear tune into the Olympics on Fox Sports”
8) Usain Bolt // 615,849 followers
The world’s fastest man is fighting to be fully fit for the defence of his 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay titles. Bolt, a man who seemingly struggles to understand the concept of modesty, calls himself “The most naturally gifted athlete the world has ever seen” in his Twitter bio. The Jamaican is supremely confident about his athletic ability, but doesn’t forget his roots.
“What can i say..Daddy and Mommy brought me up well..run for my country and the pride of Jamaica now.. Love that feature #Rockcentre”
9) Novak Djokovic // 1,091,974 followers
Like soccer, tennis isn’t exactly what one would think of as a prime Olympic sport. Yet many of the world’s top players will return to Wimbledon just a few weeks after competing for a Grand Slam to try for gold. Among them is Novak Djokovic, who relinquished his Wimbledon title and number-one ranking to Roger Federer this month. He seems to enjoy being on Twitter and interacting with his fans. He tweets some odd photos from time to time as well.
“First match on blue clay? Ouch. Next time I better bring my skates with me. So slippery out there.”
10) Tom Daley // 293,294 followers
As a 14-year-old at the Beijing Games, Daley impressed all onlookers with some stellar diving displays. He’s certainly picked up the attention of Twitter too, with hundreds of thousands of followers hanging on his every tweet. Whether he’s flirting with pop star Cheryl Cole or sharing photos of inflatable toys bought on vacation, Twitter makes the likable Daley even more personable.
“Guess what my mum got me for my birthday?!?!...a voucher to go and get an Olympic tattoo after the games :O how cool is she?!”
11) Alexandra Raisman // 34,349 followers
The 18-year-old made her first Olympic team earlier this month after performing well at the U.S. gymnastics trials. Raisman, who won gold in the team all-round event at the 2011 World Championships and qualified for the women's all-around final ahead of Jordyn Wieber, is competing in her first games. She regularly shares photos of her teammates, her family and friends, and herself.
“I have to say the highlight of my day was walking into the gym and having three 6 year olds sprint over to give me a hug :)”
12) Rebecca Adlington // 54,770 followers
Adlington won double gold in 2008, and she had hoped to repeat the feat in the pool in her homeland, but took bronze in the 400-meter freestyle. The 23-year-old has struggled in the 800m freestyle event since her Beijing triumph and has had problems on Twitter as well. She previously said she planned to step back from the community during the games to focus, but she’s been tweeting up a storm. Between thanking followers for kind comments and sending birthday wishes to friends, Adlington seems to have a lot of trouble putting her BlackBerry away after all.
“Got a 'date' tonight, each person on the team got paired up with another and we go to dinner together. I'm lucky enough to have @davidcarry”
13) Matthew Mitcham // 15,278 followers
The 24-year-old Australian is in London to defend the 10m platform title he won in Beijing, where he was reportedly the only openly gay male competitor among more than 11,000 Olympians. He’s a funny, engaging presence on Twitter, routinely thanking followers and occasionally tweeting back and forth with rival Daley.
“RT @DBreban: Are u marching in the opening ceremony?// No way, José. Opening Ceremony is an endurance event. I get tired walking up stairs.”
14) Hadia Hosny // 335 followers
The medical biosciences graduate student and Egyptian badminton player largely interacts with her followers rather than sending public tweets. Yet scattered among the @replies are a few words of wisdom of which we can all take heed:
“when you are sad just eat #chocolate and break the rules ..i think it will help”
15) Jordan Burroughs // 20,970 followers
Freestyle wrestler Burroughs, 24, puts his followers under no illusions as to his goals. His Twitter handle is @alliseeisgold. He’s equally blunt in his tweets, where he spoke of his envy at Olympic swimmers having the chance to win multiple medals at the Games, while he has just one available to win.
“I'm probably one of the most competitive people in the world. I hate to lose at anything.”
16) Shane Smeltz // 3,682 followers
“Found the best pizza joint in Perth! "Dough pizza" in Northbridge William st! It might even get in @MSterjovski top 3 haha”
17) Mark Cavendish // 388,096 followers
Cycling sprint specialist Cavendish heads into the Olympics on the back of a final-stage Tour de France victory, an event at which Olympic teammate Bradley Wiggins took the top prize. In Saturday’s men’s road race, his performance unfortunately echoed his showing in Beijing, where he was the only British track cyclist not to win a medal. For all the criticism sent his way, Cavendish is a supremely talented sprinter, one who’s not afraid to make his feelings known. As his Twitter profile explains: “Disclaimer: May cause offence.”
“Watching my daughter Delilah on her front is like watching me trying to do my core stability exercises. She gets just as pissed off too.”
For many, many more Olympians past and present to follow, check out our Twitter list of Olympics-related accounts.
Photo via Twitter