Help! I’m obsessed with Olympian TikTok

The young stars of Team USA and beyond are using the platform to show a side of the Olympic Village rarely seen before Tokyo 2020.

by Roisin Lanigan
26 July 2021, 4:49pm

Images via @codymelphy, @tylerdownss, @thishurleygurrl

With crowds banned from the Olympics this year, and the entire thing looking a little dystopian and eerie thanks to Tokyo’s strict Covid protocols, the ingenious young athletes who have travelled from across the world to compete are managing to show what life is really like inside the infamously horny Olympic Village — through the medium of TikTok, of course.

Whether it’s showing off the much-discussed cardboard beds provided to athletes; revealing the strict rules on eating, mask-wearing and leaving the complex; or just fangirling out over the celebs on their team (namely Simone Biles); the Olympians are quickly taking over the FYP. The hashtag #OlympicVillage has over 53 million views at time of writing, while #Tokyo2020 has nearly a billion (760.8 million, to be exact), and #olympics has an eye-watering 2.6 billion.

Okay okay, we hear you. It’s the Olympics, you’re saying. It’s a huge, global event that takes over TV and the internet every four years. Of course it’s big on TikTok. But there are a few caveats to that argument to consider for this year’s games in particular. Firstly, with no crowds and uncertainty up until the eleventh hour over whether or not the games would even go ahead, the usual hype and excitement around the Olympics is notably absent.

This is obviously a shame for millions of viewers, who despite being complete novices decide to become experts in esoteric sporting events every four years (“terrible dismount, that”); but is even more of a shame if you’re a teen athlete who spends every other hour training for an event that, despite being the pinnacle of your field, is about as exciting as a conversation with Keir Starmer. And even worse, the unfortunate but very obvious boringness of Tokyo 2020 is even affecting the athletes themselves, with psychologists speculating that the silent arenas will psych out competitors who rely on the crowds for some much needed adrenaline.

Olympic TikTok is a reaction against that malaise and fatigue, reminding the world that they’re competing, that it’s important to them, and that despite the 28 Days Later vibes of the event, it is still actually happening.

It’s also revealing that the truly interesting part of the Olympics is not actually the events themselves. Let’s be honest, deep down most of us only watch because of that imp of the perverse within us that hopes someone will fall off the bar or trip on the podium or that some sort of major upset will occur — perhaps with a bone sticking out or a boat going the wrong way. No, the truly interesting thing about the Olympics is the weird, alternate universe the athletes inhabit. Training for up to forty hours a week and eating strict diets, Olympians are fascinating in their own right, and so, too, are the weird villages where they live together every four years, and — according to legend — engage in some serious shagging.

Until this year, our glimpse into the lives and living quarters of Olympic athletes have been tightly controlled, curated and edited, even if it does take place on social media (like Team GB gold medallist Tom Daley’s foray into YouTube). TikTok though, by definition, is much less curated and offers a rarely seen insight into a world closed off to most of us. At least, those of us who aren’t genetically blessed and/or in possession of near-psychopathic levels of dedication.

Perhaps because Olympians, and top level athletes in general, are seen as so blessed, we can sometimes fail to see them as people; making it much easier for trolls and racists to abuse them online when they dare to miss a penalty or flake out of a tournament because of anxiety. Olympian TikTok is fascinating and also very cool, then, in letting us see the athletes as humans. Humans who live together. And humans who, because of Covid restrictions — and because many of them are just awkward teens who can jump very high! — are using TikTok’s stitch function to flirt with each other when they can’t do it face to face.

Shagging in the Olympic Village? Potentially alive and well! But more importantly, potentially none of our business! Because TikTok is reminding us that, as disqualified sprinter Sha’Carri Richardson eloquently put it earlier this month after failing a drugs test, they’re humans who just happen to run a little faster than the rest of us.

We likely don’t appreciate the pressure young Olympians are under; which is probably why we can roll our eyes at a shit dismount as we watch from the sofa in Wotsit-crumb-covered yoga leggings, or change the channel for the sports we think are boring (archery), or just plain dumb (synchronised swimming). But we don’t win gold medals! And luckily, as of Tokyo 2020, we can skip the boring bits and fall into a blackhole of billions of Olympic TikTok videos instead.

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