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There are 11,656 athletes at the Olympics. Guy Fraser wanted them all on Wikipedia

·6-min read
<span>Photograph: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

In 1992, 11-year-old Guy Fraser spent his summer vacation fiddling with a radio. He was searching, sometimes in vain, for an English-language broadcast of the Olympics in Barcelona. He was trapped in France. Oblivious to the Olympics – and her son’s devotion to them – Fraser’s mother had booked a two-week break that coincided almost perfectly with the Games. Fraser was heartbroken, but he made the best of it. He found French broadcasts he could mostly understand as he sussed out how his favourite athletes were faring in Spain.

Nearly three decades later, the Englishman is just as enthusiastic about the Games, especially after more than a year of Covid-19 lockdowns. So in the leadup to Tokyo, he began to do some research. Fraser is an equal‑opportunity viewer – “Once you properly understand the rules and tactics, any sport is inherently fascinating,” he told the Guardian in an email – and he wanted to be as informed as he could be. So he scrolled his phone from his home in Bath perusing rosters, trying to learn a thing or two about the people who’d earned spots on teams across the world.

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And sometimes, he failed. Sometimes he couldn’t find any information at all.

“I was surprised by the amount of people listed as competing who didn’t have [a Wikipedia page] started yet,” Fraser said. “I assume the lack of competitions worldwide leading up to the Games meant that a few of the usual markers weren’t hit.” He added: “These are fabulous, fantastic athletes at their peak of capabilities and at the peak of human physical achievements, and they deserve recognition and representation.”

Before this year, Fraser had dabbled in the wide world of Wikipedia. He believes wholeheartedly in the free online encyclopedia and its force as a social good, and from time to time he’d edited or added a page. Now, though, he felt Wikipedia was seriously lacking – and he had plenty of time on his hands. Fraser works with children who have autism, and the pandemic had disrupted his professional life and kept him confined to home. He was itching for something to do, and he found it in an internet blind spot. He was going to make sure every single Olympian got a Wikipedia page.

This summer, Fraser pored over pages of results – everything from the decathlon to race walking to shot put. He translated text from foreign languages, read interviews, checked and double-checked his work. He doesn’t like to code, so every time he finished a page, he flagged it for Wikipedia to finish the job. Since 1 June, he has created 358 pages. In that time, he has also made more than 1,300 edits.

He wrote about Ebba Tulu Chala, a Swedish marathoner who was born in Ethiopia and left as a child refugee, and Elija Godwin, a US runner who was impaled by a javelin in 2019. Then there’s Alice Mason, a distance runner and doctor from New Zealand who paused her Olympic training during the pandemic to work at an urgent care centre, and Andrew Coscoran, an Irish middle-distance runner who was suspended from the Florida State college team for breaking curfew. Fraser doesn’t discriminate between good deeds and bad. His goal is pure information, and the facts he knows about his athletes could fill a novella. Over the course of his research, he learned about photography and the Atlanta Falcons, Freiberg disease, the Republic of Kiribati, knee injuries, immigration and the optic nerve. “If you have to trawl through a few Belarusian hammer throwers to find the great stories,” Fraser said, “so be it.”

Swimmers compete in the final of the men&#x002019;s 4x100m medley relay.
Swimmers compete in the final of the men’s 4x100m medley relay. Photograph: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images

As he gathered information and parsed it into readable narratives, Fraser found himself pulling for people he researched. The more he knew about where they’d come from and what obstacles they’d faced, the more certain he became about their chances to win it all. He’s still waiting for one of his athletes to take gold.

When Fraser told his friends what he was working on, several were amused. His girlfriend is puzzled by the exercise, which ate up hours of his summer, but that doesn’t faze him. “At least I’m being quiet,” he says. “It’s as harmless a hobby as you get.”

More than 10 million people across the world have registered to create and edit Wikipedia pages since the site went online in 2001. Exactly 199 of them have created more than 20,000 pages; the busiest creator had made 895,445 pages as of Thursday, way north of Fraser’s total. Still, he ranks in the top 1% of creators – and he’s done the bulk of his work this summer.

A week into the Games, Fraser is still plugging away with his pages on the English language version of the site. He has more to do – he’s not certain how many, exactly, but he won’t rest until the 11,656 athletes are all enshrined in the online encyclopedia (he is helped by the fact that the vast majority of them already had pages). On Thursday, he watched BMX and learned that one of the Latvian competitors has also competed in bobsled events. On Friday, he turned his attention to track and field, working his way down the roster of entrants in the 100m dash. And he’s not just creating pages; he’s also making sure every runner who logs a personal best time gets an edit to document it. In the process, he discovered that Maggie Barrie, a sprinter from Sierra Leone, had been entered in the wrong race because of an administrative error. It was yet another story to file away, a page edit, on his way toward … what, exactly? Recognition? Page views? The honour of creating a page for an underdog-turned-medallist?

But Fraser isn’t concerned with any of that; he says he set out on this quest without a goal. There was no endpoint, because the concept of an ending is totally at odds with Wikipedia.

“They’re never finished,” he says of his pages. “You can’t ever say all the information has been found. People will continue to … build and improve and tweak and add. It’s a great community; when you make a mistake, before you awake the next day someone you’ll never meet anonymously on the other side of the world fixes it. It’s incredibly life‑affirming and provides a bit of faith in humanity.”

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