According to tracking data gathered from the various social media outlets that allow us normies to tell Olympians how much we heart them, usual suspects like Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, Gabby Douglas and Misty-May Treanor racked up the most traffic before and during this summer's games. No surprises there, but based on a comparison of social media activity preceding and during the games, number crunchers at AddThis figured out that the five athletes who recorded the highest buzz increases were all women because this Olympics, in case you haven't heard already, was the year that female athletes saved the United States from global embarrassment by being generally awesome.
Wired's Lainna Fader is quick to point out, however, that the increased interest in female athletes isn't necessarily evidence that all members of the viewing public are commending them on their athletic prowess — just as many social media gadflies were likely to discuss female athletes' physical appearance as their superhuman feats of strength and speed. Though Gabby Douglas, for example, beat out Michael Phelps as the "Most-Clicked Athlete" on NBCOlympics.com by a whopping 11 million pageviews, internet chatter was just as likely to focus on her hair as her Catwomanly agility. Fader explains that, though the U.S. Women's gymnastics team became veritable superstars after winning Olympic gold, plenty of trolls contributed not-so-pleasant opinions to the general internet discussion:
After checking out the terms most often associated with each of the top five female athletes, it seems we were right to be suspicious. Douglas' hair was discussed about as frequently as her sport. Wieber's elimination was a hot topic, but so were her "hot" and "stunning" looks. And apparently a lot of people were searching for "pics" of Raisman and asking if she's single.
Still, says former NBC Olympics producer and founder of First-Person Communications Douglas Warshaw, Olympic women dominated the social mediaverse during the games, and that's nothing to sneeze at because it helps draw attention to women in sport, which helps provide a whole generation of young girls with athletic role models to look up to and, eventually, emulate. Warshaw thinks that, though it's not easy to dismiss "the ‘hottest women of the Olympics' thing, and the sex appeal of the increasingly tight uniforms," the percentage spike in discussion about female athletes before and during the actual games reveals that the public has a genuine interest in learning more about women who don't necessarily attract a lot of attention beyond the Olympics.
I think women athletes resonate the most with us because they don't get the coverage day in and day out in between the Games. So there's something novel about the way that they're covered during the Olympics, and that adds to their appeal.
Social media buzz will certainly help some of these women secure endorsements, something that's been notoriously difficult for them to do on the same scale as male Olympians.