US ski legend Vonn praises use of AI to protect Olympic athletes from online abuse. GETTY IMAGES

US skiing legend Lindsey Vonn has spoken out in support of initiatives to use artificial intelligence to protect Olympic athletes from online abuse, sharing her own experience of facing intense harassment ahead of the 2018 Winter Games.

Artificial Inteligence (AI) will be used at the 2024 Paris Olympics and Paralympics to protect athleres from abuse, and retired legend Lindsey Vonn shared her personal experiences from her time as a competitor at the International Olympic Committee's AI Agenda launch at London's Olympic Park on Friday, highlighting the difficulties she faced.

"Social media can be a very positive experience, but unfortunately I've experienced its other sidet, especially before the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics. I was severely harassed and people sent me death threats and that was really hard for me," she recalled.

"It's hard enough being an athlete and trying to perform at the Olympics, without having to deal with people who you know want you to fall off a cliff. So the fact that AI will be able to take down those comments in real time, and not only that, but help them track people, is huge because I think it will change the dynamic of social media," Vonn said.

The 39-year-old Vonn, who won the Olympic gold in the women's downhill at the 2010 Vancouver Games, said she wished she had the opportunity to use the technology being introduced in Paris.

Reflecting on her own career, she expressed a sense of longing for the advances that could have enhanced her performance and experience as an athlete.

"It would have saved me a lot of anxiety and emotional trauma. It's part of being in the public eye and of course, we have to deal with that, but if there's a way to minimise that kind of hate speech, it's hugely beneficial for athletes," she told the conference in London.

 At the Rugby World Cup, a man was identified by the Australian media as Aaron Isai, 22, from Brisbane, was charged with online harassment after sending threatening messages to the referee and his family. 

Kirsty Burrows, who heads up the IOC's Safe Sport Unit, expects an estimated 500 million social media posts during the Paris event. She said the IOC intends to work with a technology provider to use AI to "create and promote a digitally safe environment" in Paris.

"The opportunity is available for 15,000 athletes at the Olympic and Paralympic Games and 2,000 officials and coaches to utilise AI to capture millions of data points to detect at scale, at pace in real-time, targeted online abuse towards athletes and officials,", she said.

The AI system is designed to detect potential threats, with the aim of removing harmful content before it reaches athletes. It will also work in tandem with various protective services at the Games, such as mental health and wellbeing support officers.

"It's really important to better understand the prevalence of online abuse. We want athletes to be able to thrive in sport. By using this AI, we'll also be able to better understand online violence in sport, the typologies of violence and develop data-driven policies and interventions to help create physically and psychologically safe environments for athletes," concluded Burrows.