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2021: the self-proclaimed and much awaited “summer of sport”. The Euros, Tour De France, Wimbledon, British Grand Prix, The Hundred and Olympics/Paralympics. As Chandler Bing would say: could sports fans BE anymore excited?

These long anticipated events have been a welcome return to normality as the UK continues on its roadmap out of lockdown, but thanks to the skyrocketing success of TikTok – the most downloaded app of the last 12 months – sport related social media consumption has never looked more different.

Look no further than the Tokyo 2020 Olympics for proof – despite not being able to publish any of the sporting action (more on that here) the platform has been a hive of Olympic focused activity.

Welcome to #OlympicTok

Well known for its disruptive approach to social media, users will be familiar with  “Interest Toks” – unique little corners of social media where TikTok sub communities can create and engage with niche content based on specific interests and topics. At the time of writing, #OlympicTok racked up 22 million views, whilst there have been 5.9bn views of videos under the #Olympics tag and 4.2bn under the #OlympicSpirit topic.

It’s these hashtags that have given competing athletes the unique opportunity to show off not just their incredible sporting talents, but also compete on the social media stage, too.

Just a few hours after winning another gold medal in the pool, king of the pool Adam Peaty took to TikTok, miming to trending Drake song “Know Yourself” to flash his gold medal and tap into the trend of self realisation. Users are recognising this – one user even commenting “”Halfway through the race he was like ‘Damn I have a good idea for a TikTok'”.

But even before the Games themselves, Peaty has been giving fans an insight into his Olympic journey – including this “Father and Son GRWM” which went viral:

@adam_peaty

Getting ready for the Olympics with my top competitor #adampeaty #olympics #olympiccountdown #olympians @eirimunro

♬ SexyBack (feat. Timbaland) – Justin Timberlake

All Fun, No Games

But behind the comedy, content like Peaty’s perfectly sums up why TikTok has played such a huge part in Tokyo 2020. Rather than trying to compete with the traditional media narrative, #OlympicTok activity thrives – as does any good performing TikTok content – on being entertaining, fun and importantly, authentic.

From Israeli athletes testing the cardboard beds and sprinters tasting Japanese snacks, to US Rugby athlete Cody Melphy showing users “things in the Olympic village that just make sense”, athletes quickly tapped into the authentic nature of TikTok by showing prime behind-the-scenes content that just didn’t exist anywhere else.

@kelseymarierobinson

OPENING CEREMONIES 🇺🇸🇺🇸🇺🇸 #fypシ #tokyo2020 #openingceremony #teamusa #LeadWithLove #olympicspirit #usavolleyball

♬ A Moment Apart – ODESZA

Would this have happened without the pandemic? Perhaps not. Without family or friends to engage in the real world, it’s no surprise that athletes instead struck up an online relationship with fans to forge that much needed human connection.

Ilona Maher, went viral for her videos about flirting with other Olympians, accumulating more than 4 million views on a video where she lip-synced to a popular TikTok audio saying, “Hey, sorry, quick question. Are you looking for a wife?” Proving the long term impact of these videos, Maher’s TikTok followers grew from 86,000 pre Olympics to now over 800,000. It’s a clever strategy for athletes who, whilst not medalling this time around, ensuring they have a social media legacy that they can leverage to build their personal profile for years to come.

@ilonamaher

I am available #beastbeautybrains #olympics #tokyoolympics #tokyo2021 #japan #olympicvillage #athlete #olympictiktok #teamusa

♬ original sound – Big Daws

Attracting New Audiences

One thing is for sure – athletes adopting TikTok has done wonders for Olympic brand awareness. According to data from YouGov, only one in three people (36%) said they were interested in the Tokyo Olympics, down from 46% in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro games and from 51% in London.

“The Olympics is so much more fun now that TikTok is a thing,” commented one user.

With Paris 2024 a few years away, if the Olympic Board have got any sense, they’ll take a leaf out of Euros 2020 and consider how they can better get TikTok involved.