A smartphone shows the location of the North Greenwich Arena for the 2012 Olympics in London. Credit: Getty Images

With the whole world’s attention on the Summer Olympics in London, athletes aren’t the only ones striving for perfection. Thousands of people are responsible for coordinating every little detail of the Olympic program, but sometimes technology can stand in the way of a gold-medal result.

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Here are some ways that modern technology has caused controversy at this year’s games:


Twitter might take the gold medal for being the most disruptive technology at this year’s Olympics.

Twitter has served as the mouthpiece of the outraged masses looking to vent their frustration about delays in the broadcast, the lack of a reliable video stream of the Olympics (at least in the United States), and other Olympics fails.

The microblogging service has also arguably had an impact on the results of the games by forcing a couple of athletes unfamiliar with social media scrutiny to bow out of the games. Triple-jumper Voula Papachristou was booted from the Greek national team shortly before the opening ceremony in London after she posted a racist tweet to her feed. Similarly, Swiss soccer player Michel Morganella left London after posting a tweet that “quoted a message in French slang that expressed hostility to South Koreans and questioned their intelligence,” according to the New York Times.

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In a more extreme example of the use of Twitter in this year’s games, a British teenager tweeted a series of increasingly threatening posts to Olympic diver Tom Daley. The teen was subsequently arrested for the messages.


You would think something as simple as a clock would be a reliable piece of equipment at the biggest sporting competition in the world, where thousandths of a second can mean the difference between victory and defeat.

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South Korean fencer Shin A-lam learned that the hard way in her semifinal match against Germany’s Britta Heidemann. Believing she had won the match due to an official accidentally resetting the game clock to 0:00, Shin began to celebrate only to find that 0.02 seconds remained in the match. However, referees were only able to add whole seconds to the clock, and they had to round up.

That single second was enough time for Heidemann to score a point and claim what would be a controversial victory.

Starting Equipment

Twenty-year-old Breeja Larson might have had a shot at the Olympic podium for the 100-meter breaststroke had a malfunctioning starting system not interfered.

In the final heat of the race, the starting tone went off prematurely before the “take your marks” signal was even given to the swimmers. Larson was the only one to dive in the pool. Although she wasn’t disqualified because the false start was caused by equipment failure, the slip-up unnerved the young swimmer and likely cost her a medal.

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LZR Racer

Worn by Michael Phelps and more than 90 percent of winning swimmers in the Beijing Olympics, the LZR Racer was the gold-standard swimsuit in 2008. Since then, the suit has fallen out of favor.

With competing swimmers alleging that the suit essentially amounts to “technological doping,” the Fédération Internationale de Natation (FINA), the body responsible for swimming events at the Olympics, reversed course after initially endorsing the use of the suits, and instead elected to ban them entirely from the games.

Although the suits have fallen out of fashion, records won by athletes wearing the suisse will still stand.

Prosthetic Limbs

South Africa’s Oscar Pistorius is the first Olympic athlete in history to compete in track and field as a double amputee. Dubbed the “Blade Runner,” Pistorius runs on specially designed limbs that had competitors concerned the athlete might have an unfair advantage.

NBC has drawn criticism for its handling of the Olympics. Credit: Corbis Images

Like any athlete, however, Pistorius had to train and prove himself able to compete on an Olympic caliber. The runner made it as far as the semi-finals this year in the 400-meter, but fell short of making it to the final heat.

Online News

London is six hours ahead of the east coast of the United States and nine hours from the west coast. That difference posed a logistical challenge for NBC, the sole U.S. carrier of this year’s Olympic Games, who opted to delay broadcast of the Olympics in order to get viewers to tune in during primetime hours.

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The digital news-iverse, it would seem, waits for no media congolomerate as photos of the athletes and the results of the competition have poured in in real time. The result has been a torrent of frustrated commentors online looking to avoid spoilers.

NBC has made no apologies for the delay. After all, the network paid over $1 billion for the rights to broadcast the games, and has seen record network audiences tune in every night in spite of the backlash.

VPN Connections

If you live in the United States, the only way to watch the Olympics is to see it on television. Although NBC has streaming available, only customers with a cable subscription can use the service, which includes the same tape delay as the regular broadcast.

The BBC is also streaming the Olympics, and they’re doing it live. The catch is that the stream is region-locked, leading some tech savvy Americans to use online services like UnblockUs or Tunnelbear to watch the overseas webcast, according to Reuters.