When Karina Maruyama, a forward in Japan's women's Olympic soccer team, took a step toward recovery from a serious knee injury, she wanted to tell everyone.
"I removed some tape from my knee today," Maruyama said in a post on her Twitter account July 12. Her supporters responded immediately, leaving tweets such as, "That's great!"
Maruyama injured her right knee during the Olympic qualifying tournament, but got plenty of encouragement during her rehabilitation.
"When I was suffering, I was encouraged by tweets on my Twitter account from my supporters," said Maruyama, who has more than 60,000 followers on the online social network. "I cherish my supporters," she said, adding she sometimes replies to more than 10 tweets a day.
Maruyama is just one of an increasing number of athletes--and their supporters--using online social networking services to share their thoughts and feelings ahead of the London Olympics, which start July 27.
The women's national soccer team, officially dubbed "Nadeshiko Japan," has its own Twitter account. Before the team won the Women's World Cup last summer, it had about 6,000 followers on Twitter. This has soared to more than 94,000.
Badminton player Shintaro Ikeda will compete in London and has been putting regular updates on his Twitter account since 2010. He hopes sharing information in the public arena will help make his sport more popular.
Ikeda has more than 4,000 followers.
"I can now feel the support of so many people," he said.
When playing overseas, Ikeda receives many tweets from supporters, despite the time difference. "I'm really encouraged by such tweets," Ikeda said.
While athletes get buoyed by these online interactions, the messages also help supporters feel a greater affinity for players they are cheering on.
"Athletes were once really distant, but when I read their tweets I feel closer to them," said a 37-year-old piano teacher in Karatsu, Saga Prefecture, who has left messages of encouragement on the Twitter account of Olympic swimmer Takeshi Matsuda. "I'm happy I can convey my support directly to the athletes."
According to an online survey by the Dentsu Innovation Institute, 15.7 percent of respondents said they will use Twitter or other social networking websites while watching events at the London Olympics. This is almost triple the 5.5 percent who used them while watching the 2008 Beijing Games.
Asked when they want to send messages on the networking sites, more than half of the 15.7 percent said "to express my delight over a victory" and "to share my excitement over a thrilling event."
The institute, a private research organization, said many people watching sports now like to share their emotions with other people--and with the players.
Yahoo Japan Corp. launched a website Tuesday that can be used to send tweets cheering on Olympic athletes.
The site lists events in order of the number of tweets about them, including keywords to help pinpoint events, such as judoka Tomoko Fukumi and gymnast Kohei Uchimura, a gold medal favorite, and other Games-related topics so users can easily join the tweets.
Social networking websites are growing in popularity throughout the world and the International Olympic Committee is trying to encourage athletes to tweet about their experiences. The IOC has opened a website that details the Twitter and Facebook accounts of famous athletes, including Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt.
However, there are some restrictions on athletes sending messages or other information through Twitter or blogs during the Games. Comments about other athletes and specific companies or products are banned.