In an Olympic Games closed off to fans, athletes have used TikTok to provide a glimpse at life in the Olympic Village.
From dining hall reviews to videos testing out the infamous cardboard beds to videos from training in the arenas, many athletes have gone viral on the popular social media app throughout the Games, connecting fans directly to the action.
Team USA rugby player Ilona Maher posted daily throughout her Olympic experience, racking up millions of views on many of her videos. She wanted to show that Olympians are people, too, by posting relatable and funny content.
“They think of us as these Olympians who don’t have fun or who are always on their grind,” Maher, 24, said. “But no, we’re people. We’re human. We love to have fun. We love to make jokes.”
In one of her most-viewed videos from Tokyo, Maher and her teammates tested what activities could be done on the much-discussed cardboard beds provided to athletes in the Olympic Village. Maher’s video — in which she performs CPR and beats up an imaginary robber on the bed, her teammate practices yoga and another throws a tantrum, among other activities — has been viewed more than 7.5 million times.
The bed survived all the activities.
“I was getting a lot of responses,” Maher said. “It was just people who I really think loved that they were seeing this inside look into the village, and the food and the beds and the vibe of the village I think people really liked.”
Maher also went viral for her videos about flirting with other Olympians, accumulating more than 4 million views on a video addressed to “all the tall foreign demigod lookin athletes in the Olympic Village.”
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The video features Maher lip-syncing to a popular TikTok audio saying, “Hey, sorry, quick question. Are you looking for a wife?”
Maher’s videos have found a large, and rapidly growing, audience. She said she had 86,000 followers before the Olympics; just weeks later, she boasts more than 780,000.
She was initially worried she wouldn’t be able to use TikTok while in Tokyo, as social media rules have been more strict at past Olympics. This year, the International Olympic Committee eased up on the guidelines, opening the door for Olympians to take over TikTok.
“That I think was so key and so awesome that they still allowed us to do that because it helped our brands to grow as well because we were able to connect with our fans,” Maher said. “We didn’t have any family there or fans there in person, so we had to give them an inside look some way.”
Like Maher, American diver Tyler Downs showed fans that Olympians have senses of humor, too, through his TikToks.
“Why did everyone think olympians weren’t funny like c’mon we aren’t just athletic,” Downs wrote in a video shared with his more than 900,000 followers. The video — captioned, “I swear i’m normal” — racked up more than 14 million views.
Downs also earned more than 16 million views for a video in which he wrote, “when you see simone biles at the olympics,” set to an audio saying, “Talk to me.”
In his other viral videos, Downs, 18, uses TikTok like a typical teenager, doing popular TikTok dances, annoying his roommates and taking part in popular TikTok trends.
Cody Melphy, an American rugby player who has nearly 1 million TikTok followers, has also used TikTok to give fans an exclusive look at life in the Olympic Village.
His most popular video from the Games, boasting a staggering 21.5 million views, shows fans “things that just make sense in the Olympic Village” — including separate housing for all the different countries’ athletes, the bedrooms with the cardboard beds and the 24/7 dining hall for all athletes.
Melphy, 28, has also interacted with fans directly on the platform, answering questions like whether the athletes get to hang out with athletes from other countries. In response, Melphy posted a video featuring the entertainment center athletes use to play table tennis and arcade games and watch the Olympic events.
“I was just trying to give people what I would have wanted to see if I wasn’t there,” Melphy said. “If I came across something that I was like, ‘Oh, this is kind of cool,’ I took my phone out and recorded it and tried to put a little video together for people to see it.”