The success of the Olympic games, about to open in Atlanta, may depend as much on fibre-optic cable and state-of-the-art software as on muscle and determination. Never before has an event of any kind relied so much on high technology to do everything from providing security and traffic control to entertaining the athletes and accrediting the press.
In the Olympic Village, which opened on Saturday at the Georgia Institute of Technology, athletes can receive email from their fans at an Internet "Surf Shack". The campus has been fully wired with fibre-optic cable and in-room information systems that the university will keep once the games have ended.
In a few cases, technology has contributed to problems. Two dormitories being built in the Olympic Village have sunk nine inches as a result of a computer error in a calculation about the firmness of the ground. The most significant high-tech component of the Olympic games that Georgia Tech will get to keep "is something you can't actually see," said Bob Harty, spokesman for the university: FutureNet, a buried fibre-optic system providing voice, data and video connections to virtually every building on the campus. Athletes will get live television, Internet access and up-to-the-minute schedule information beamed directly to their rooms.
Students arriving for the autumn term after the Olympics will be able to hook their personal computers directly into a system that provides them with the library card catalogue, a list of scheduled events and courses, videotaped replays of academic lectures, interactive tutorials and other features.
The system, which was paid for by the Olympic Organizing Committee, is "probably the largest fibre optic cable network on any campus in the United States," said Harty.
But Georgia Tech's 13,000 students also will have a new reason to leave their rooms once in a while: a state-of-the-art laser bowling alley with electronic scoring in their student centre, built for the Olympic Village and the university's to keep come August.