As the Olympic flame zigzags across the country on its way to Atlanta, computer users are tracking its progress via the Internet.
For the first time, the Internet is giving people around the globe access to the Olympic Games. At the World Wide Web site hosted by The Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games and IBM (http://www.-atlanta.olympic.org), visitors can buy tickets, find lodging, read about venues and check out Olympic activities.But the main event on the Web site right now is the 1996 Olympic Torch Relay.
The entire 15,000-mile torch relay is mapped from start to finish on the Web site. Pictures, maps and profiles of torchbearers let visitors take a virtual trip alongside the flame.
On Saturday, the page displayed a photograph of gold medal gymnasts Bart Connor and his wife, Nadia Comaneci, passing the torch the day before in Sandy. Today the page documents the flame's progress from Colorado Springs to Julesburg, Colo. And so it will go, city to city, until July 19 when the Olympic flame arrives in Atlanta.
The torch relay is a prime example of how technology is playing a key role in the 1996 Centennial Olympic Summer Games.
The story begins two years ago, long before a torch lit in Athens, Greece, brought the Olympic flame to the United States.
That's when IBM began crafting computerized maps of a relay route from Los Angeles to Atlanta. Two IBM map experts drove across the country, using Think-Pad notebook computers running navigational mapping software to choose the best path for the torch relay.
Fourteen regional mappers, also equipped with ThinkPad computers, later fine-tuned the routes in their own areas. They added landmarks and detailed kilometer-by-kilometer directions, such as the "pass the gazebo in the Lake Park apartments" line that guided the relay through Ogden.
The work continues now that the relay is under way. An advance team travels two days ahead of the flame, following the same computer maps. Any adjustments needed in the route - because of construction or other obstacles - are transmitted via an OmniTRAC satellite system to a media van in the 12-vehicle caravan traveling with the torch.
Technicians use the same satellite and computer system to send digitized photographs taken during the torch relay to the Web site, letting visitors "see" the flame as it travels the United States.
At the Web site, which is getting about 100,000 hits a day, visitors can look up maps of each day's route. They can read profiles of any of the 10,000 torchbearers who are helping transport the flame across the country.
A search feature lets visitors track the flame's progress by day, date or location and look up activities scheduled during the cross-country jaunt.
And they can read the history of the Olympic flame and the torch relay, including a rundown of every relay from 1936 to the present. This year's torch relay is the longest in the history of the Olympic movement.