Athletes play video games as Olympics go virtual

RALEIGH, North Carolina Thu Aug 7, 2008 10:44am EDT

Amanda Beard swims in her heat of the Women's 200m Breaststroke at the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials in Omaha, Nebraska, July 3, 2008. If 24-hour coverage of the Olympic Games in China isn't enough for fans, Sega has rolled out the official video game of the 2008 events in Beijing for PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and mobile phones. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes

Amanda Beard swims in her heat of the Women's 200m Breaststroke at the U.S. Olympic Swimming Trials in Omaha, Nebraska, July 3, 2008. If 24-hour coverage of the Olympic Games in China isn't enough for fans, Sega has rolled out the official video game of the 2008 events in Beijing for PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and mobile phones.

Credit: Reuters/Jeff Haynes

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RALEIGH, North Carolina (Reuters) - If 24-hour coverage of the Olympic Games in China isn't enough for fans, Sega has rolled out the official video game of the 2008 events in Beijing for PC, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and mobile phones.

It offers 38 events from track and field to swimming to judo and has online play for the first time in an Olympics game.

Every four years, a different publisher tackles the Summer Games.

Sega enlisted U.S. gold medal contenders Amanda Beard, Tyson Gay, Nastia Liukin and Reese Hoffa for the cover of "Beijing 2008: The Official Video Game of the Olympic Games."

It turns out these Olympians are also gamers.

"I was so excited to be on the cover," said Beard, a seven-time Olympic medalist. "To be with these other athletes who are on the cover with me, now I can cheer and watch them at the Olympics and then go home and play the video game."

Beard, the youngest U.S. swimmer to ever bring home the gold after her performance at the 1996 Games in Atlanta, was also playing virtual Olympics games at an early age.

"I played the old Nintendo Olympics game with the Power Pad, where you started out as the turtle and worked your way up to the cheetah," said Beard.

"My family would have competitions against other families who were close friends and we'd rock it. We'd do the triple jump and the hurdles and all of that fun stuff."

RELAXING DISTRACTION

Hoffa is going for gold in the men's shot put when he makes his second Olympic Games appearance in Beijing. The reigning world champion is a lifelong video games fan whose PlayStation 2 and PSP go where he goes.

"Like every guy, it's a major part of my life, especially when you travel overseas," said Hoffa, who enjoys the "Madden," "MLB 2K8" and "Tiger Woods PGA Tour Golf" games.

"Video games pass the time so much easier than just playing cards," he said. "All the guys I know bring a PS2, PSP and a controller with them to the international competitions. They get into some pretty heated 'Madden' tournaments."

Gay, one of the fastest men in the world this year, is also pretty quick in the virtual environment.

"Olympic track athletes spend a lot of free time trying to be the best in their favorite video games. So much so, our fingers sometimes get more tired then our legs do in actual races," said Gay, picked as male athlete of the year in 2007 by the International Association of Athletics Federations.

Hoffa said there was a room at the 2004 Olympics in Athens with about 30 PlayStation 2s and Xboxes and a large library of games. He expects the same set-up in Beijing.

"For me, it keeps me off my feet, it keeps me engaged and I don't waste a lot of energy playing them," said Hoffa.

Gay plans to play video games in Beijing because they take his mind off the nervousness he feels before competitions.

"'Beijing 2008' gives kids a chance to experience the fun of being in the Olympics when they are sitting right in their own home," said Gay.

"Maybe some young kid will play the game and be inspired to go out and train in real life with the goal of really being in the Olympic Games some day."

Sega also has an arcade game available on Wii and Nintendo DS, with "Mario and Sonic: Olympic Games" putting two of the most popular game icons together for the first time. The Wii version encourages gamers to physically mimic 20 events like fencing and table tennis as they compete against friends.

(Editing by John O'Callaghan and Philip Barbara)

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