Athletes' looks among factors spurring internet searches in HK during Olympics

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 August, 2012, 9:46am

It wasn't just sporting prowess that got Hongkongers searching for Olympic athletes on the internet - they were also looking for those at the heart of controversy, or sportspeople who just looked good wearing skin-tight Lycra.

Online searches for the city's top woman badminton player Yip Pui-yin, 24, jumped more than 2,000 per cent in the first week of the Olympics as she made her way to the women's singles quarter-finals against China's Li Xuerui , according to internet tracking firm Experian Hitwise. Yip beat two seeded players to reach her showdown with Li, who went on to take the gold.

Locals also got behind velodrome queen Lee Wai-sze, 25, in the week leading up to her bronze-medal-winning performance in the women's keirin, Hong Kong's first Olympic medal in cycling, with a sharp increase in searches between July 27 and August 4.

The figures were based on the online habits of two million internet users in Hong Kong, said John Merakovsky, managing director of Experian Asia Pacific.

He said it was not surprising that searches were mainly for sports in which Hong Kong was represented.

"There's a lot less interest in other sports, which I think is probably a reflection of the general culture" of the city, which is more focused on academic and business performance than sporting prowess, he said.

However, there were some unexpected results, Merakovsky said, such as a huge spike in searches for Marcel Nguyen, the German-Vietnamese gymnast who won two silver medals for Germany and who grabbed headlines for his physique as much as his performance.

Other athletes who proved more popular for their looks included statuesque American pole vaulter Allison Stokke, who didn't even make the Games, and baby-faced British diver Tom Daley, who took a bronze medal in the 10-metre platform.

Mainland athletes also attracted plenty of online attention, with searches for 20-year-old swimmer Sun Yang , who won gold in the 400 metres and 1,500 metres freestyle. Searches for him increased by almost 2,000 per cent when he became the first Chinese man to win an Olympic gold in swimming.

Web users were also hungry for more information on Chinese teen swimming sensation Ye Shiwen , from Zhejiang province, who broke the world record in the 400 metres medley, sparking a storm of speculation about her spectacular improvement.