The stability of the cardboard framed beds in the Athletes’ Village have been tested by Olympians who have treated them like trampolines on almost every social media platform, and a Greek water polo player has created a dating app – which could have been useful for American rugby player Ilona. Maher, who rode with the “Thirsty Olympian” schtick.
The bespoke Tokyo Games, where pandemic precautions prevent allowing spectators, have become more of a digital affair than ever. From social media to streaming, athletes and their events are reaching audiences in record and innovative ways.
Over 100 million unique users visited Olympic digital platforms or used the Tokyo 2020 app during the games’ first week. U.S. rights holder NBC recorded 2.5 billion minutes of streaming Olympic content across all of its digital platforms, the network said, a 77% increase from the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Games. The first week in Tokyo was the highest weekly usage on record for the Peacock streaming platform.
But it’s the social media platforms that are causing the buzz. Social posts from Olympic accounts on TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Weibo generated 3.7 billion engagements. The Olympics social media accounts have a combined total of 75 million subscribers.
Then there is the TikTok phenomenon. Launched in 2017, the abbreviated video sharing app has been one of the favorite social media platforms of these games. Athletes you’ve never heard of before Tokyo – especially those in niche sports – have used TikTok to capture moments that not only went viral, but became the way to introduce themselves to the world.
Karate, skateboarding, sport climbing, and surfing – all sports that resonate with a younger demographic – have certainly helped drive traffic to TikTok. The winners of the women’s street skateboarding podium were 13, 13 and 16 years old, and silver medalist Rayssa Leal of Brazil has 3.4 million followers on TikTok, half of her 6.5 million followers on Instagram.
Even the official Olympics page has skyrocketed with over three billion views of videos related to its #OlympicSpirit challenge.
“TikTok, as my son told me recently, is the digital venue of choice for young audiences,” said IOC spokesperson Mark Adams. “The Games have to go where the people are.”
The world knew gymnast SIMONE BILES before her second Olympics, and her teammate SUNISA LEE was also very popular. After Lee won the women’s all-around contest, she surpassed one million followers on her Instagram account. When settling for bronze on uneven bars, the 18-year-old admitted her growing fame had been a distraction.
But ILONA MAHER? Few people knew the 24-year-old rugby player from Vermont who could very well be the star of the TikTok Olympics. Posting while wearing a red, white and blue bucket hat, the self-deprecating 5-foot-10, 200-pound nursing school graduate read an article that called her “the thirsty Olympian” and ran with.
Maher is using a #beastbeautybrains campaign and hopes his videos will spread a positive body image, bring more attention to the sport of rugby, and most importantly, allow him to secure promotional deals.
âAs a female athlete in an emerging sport, I don’t make a lot of money, so hopefully that opens the door to some branding deals,â Maher said. As for the message she tries to send to young girls: âIt’s good to take up space. You can be so many things, a beast on the rugby field, a beauty anytime, and be as smart as the smartest person in the world. “
JAGGER EATON came to Tokyo with a community of skateboarders that started in 2012 when he set a record as the youngest competitor in the X Games at age 11. But it wasn’t until his sport was added to the Olympics that the rest of America became familiar with the 20-year-old Arizonan who won bronze with AirPods in his ears and his iPhone in his pocket.
When he missed a trick and was then shown to be looking for his fallen AirPod, Eaton went viral.
âI’m so glad skateboarding has so many eyes. I think it really advances the sport and legitimizes skateboarding, âsays Eaton, who says he hasâ no idea âwhy America fell in love with him. His social media presence is deliberate, with a defined aesthetic that he hopes legitimizes skateboarding.
“I feel like people really see how much I love skateboarding and how much I want to give back to the skate community, as well as to the younger generation that gave me so much motivation,” Eaton said.
Australian canoeist JESSICA FOX rose to prominence not by winning canoe slalom gold or kayak slalom bronze, but by posting a TikTok video of someone using a condom to fix the nose of their boat.
Filipino skateboarder MARGIELYN DIDAL posted a photo alongside Tony Hawk, considered the greatest skateboarder of all time, who jumped at Hawk’s joke that he’s often misidentified in public. When his message was misinterpreted because Didal did not recognize Hawk, the GOAT had to explain himself.
ERIK SHOJI, an American volleyball player, grabbed attention with TikTok food reviews and tours of the Athlete’s Village, as well as behind-the-scenes looks at the athlete’s experience. He didn’t take social media seriously until he launched a YouTube channel last year while battling COVID.
Shoji reinforced his presence both as a way to preserve his memories and to shine the spotlight on the US men’s volleyball team off the court.
âPeople see us playing but don’t really know us off the pitch,â said the Hawaiian. “I hope that by showing myself and my teammates on TikTok, viewers got to know us in a different light and fall in love with our team.”
On the other side of the world in Slovakia, the 18-year-old synchronized swimmer SILVIA SOLYMOSYOVA has gained ground even though she is not yet an Olympian. Solymosyova studied TikTok trends to gain 1.2 million followers while reaching American audiences with her underwater videos.
âMany Slovaks think that anything that comes from abroad is better. My region is too small and my niche is too specific. That’s why I was trying to engage primarily with American TikTokers and target the English speaking audience, âshe said. “Because I am GenZ who sets the trends on TikTok, I have learned the skills and am a little ahead of the curve.”
Then there’s MARIOS KAPOTSIS, who tries to lead Greece to their first ever Olympic medal in men’s water polo. The 29-year-old has developed a dating app called “Vespr” which only works at night.
âSo the app starts when the sun goes down, it’s open and when the sun rises, it’s closed,â says Kapotsis. “So it’s only overnight. Whatever you do overnight, the next night it’s all over. So every night is something new.”
AP Sports writer Jay Cohen and AP reporter Syd Fryer contributed to this report. More AP: https://apnews.com/hub/2020-tokyo-olympics and https://twitter.com/APâSports