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E-Mail, WWW Served Up at "Surf Shack"

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NAGANO — Japan can be an exotic and fun place, but it can also be a lonely place for athletes who have a lot of down time. The separation of culture, language and food can make an athlete a little homesick. There's a place in the Olympic Village where athletes can reach out and touch their friends and loved ones. It's called the Surf Shack.

It's got the look and buzz of a Japanese tea house. But here, IBM is serving up a little slice of home to athletes from around the world. The Surf Shack is equipped with 30 PCs where athletes can surf the Web, send and receive e-mail and create their own homepages.

WRAL found Patrick Singleton's homepage. Singleton is an Elon College grad competing in the luge for Burmuda. It's the perfect spot to take a break.

Canadian speed skater Marc Gagnon has enjoyed spending time at the Surf Shack. Since his event isn't until the games, Gagnon has had plenty of time to use the computers.

Not only do athletes get personal mail, they get mail directed to their team and particular country. Many of the athletes were surprised at the number of messages they've received from the IBM fan mail site.

Some athletes hang around all day, getting close to a staff trained in nine different languages. One was lucky enough to share her ultimate Olympic experience.

"She came back in with her gold medal," explains Surf Shack manager Alfonzo dell'Aglio, "sharing it with the staff. She was so proud of it. Everybody came out. We were all cheering her on. She updated her homepage on the Web with her gold medal."

Over 400 athletes a day leave the pressure of training and competition for a short Internet ride back home.

The Surf Shack is protected by security, making it difficult for the media or fans to get in. Many of those fans want to leave gifts for their favorite athletes. Those gifts are screened individually, and many of them have yet to be delivered.


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