ZHANGJIAKOU, CHINA (REUTERS) - American snowboarder Maddie Mastro has captured the hearts of millions on the internet by showing both the highs and lows of being an Olympian, sharing everything from try-on hauls to competition prep on her TikTok account.
Mastro, 21, is part of a growing number of athletes who are using their popular social accounts to connect directly to newly-converted fans, answering questions about their training routines, accommodation and Olympic merchandise at the Beijing Games.
Mastro, who was in Beijing to compete in the women's halfpipe event, has been called a "trusted source" for all things Olympics-related by some of her followers on TikTok, who say they've become more invested in the Games because they feel they know her.
"2 weeks ago I had no idea who you are. Now I'm invested in what you wear to dinner and can't wait to cheer you on!" one TikTok user commented this week ahead of the qualifiers.
Eileen Gu, a star freestyle skier, has been posting regular Instagram updates, including a video of her walking a "catwalk"in her room after trying on all of Team China's different uniforms.
With the Beijing Olympics held during a global pandemic and not open to public spectators, athletes like Mastro's natural social persona have helped drive traffic to more mainstream broadcasters, who are carrying the Games.
Yiannis Exarchos, CEO of Olympic Broadcasting Services, called social media a "huge area of potential," at a Thursday press conference, singling out TikTok as the social platform generating most of the Olympics conversation.
Gen Z were particularly active in contributing to the Olympics hype, Exarchos said.
Ahead of the women's halfpipe qualifiers, Mastro posted NBC's streaming schedule for the event after some users asked where they would able to cheer her on.
After Mastro failed to advance to the halfpipe final, she waited some time before updating her more than 540,000 followers.
"Yesterday was not a good day. I'm so bummed on the outcome," she said as she sat on her bed wearing what she has called her "trusty red beanie".
"I wasn't able to show the snowboarding I wanted to show in the qualies (qualifiers) ... and I'm just really, really bummed," she said, tearing up on camera.
The post has since been viewed nearly 500,000 times and attracted more than 3,000 messages of encouragement telling the snowboarder to remain positive despite the disappointing result.
"Ridiculously cool to see somebody come out and show the real feelings behind this," went one of the comments.