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November 23, 2014

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White is most chatted-about Olympic athlete

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Andy Wong / AP

Switzerland’s Iouri Podladtchikov, left, celebrates with Shaun White of the United States after Podladtchikov won the gold medal in the men’s snowboard halfpipe final at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park, at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia.

Snowboarder Shaun White is the most buzzed-about Olympic athlete on Facebook but figure skating is by far the sport that attracts the most interest.

The social media site said Friday that more than 24 million people have commented on the Olympics during Sochi's first week, with a total of 48 million posts, comments and "likes." The most activity was in the United States, Canada and Great Britain.

Television programmers have long looked at ratings to conclude that figure skating is the No. 1 Winter Olympic sport. Facebook chatter confirmed it, with skating attracting more online commentary by a margin of more than two to one, said Robert D'Onofrio, a Facebook data editor stationed at the games.

"It's not a big surprise," D'Onofrio said. Facebook issued a world map that tells which sport drives the most conversation in individual countries, and figure skating is in the lead in the United States, Canada, Russia, Brazil and many others.

Still, Facebook said that of the five most commented-upon athletes, only one was a figure skater. That was Michael Christian Martinez of the Philippines, who finished No. 20 in the men's free skate on Friday.

White, the American snowboarder whose bid for a third straight gold medal in the halfpipe fell short, had the early lead among attention-getting athletes. Besides Martinez, the other most popular athletes so far are Jenny Jones, the British snowboarder; Canadian skier Alex Bilodeau; and American snowboarder Jamie Anderson.

The map that illustrated the most talked-about sports per country had many that were perfectly logical: Speed skating-mad Holland was one of the few countries where that sport dominated. The biathlon was popular in Europe.

There were also some oddities. Despite sending only a handful of athletes, India ranked among the top 20 countries for most Facebook chatter, D'Onofrio said. The most talked-about sport in India is hockey, even though the country doesn't have a hockey team. Britain was one of the few countries where snowboarding was dominant, probably a result of Jones' bronze medal performance.

While TV ratings indicate that curling is popular, it hasn't been the source of much Facebook talk, he said.

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