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How did the Tokyo 2020 Olympics impact Athlete Social Media Followings? Article

© Dimitris Tosidis/IFSC

Despite the lack of spectators on site, the Tokyo 2020 Sport Climbing events attracted millions of viewers across the globe. For many of those tuning in, it was the first time that they'd become aware of climbing as a sport, let alone an Olympic one (with a quirky format and scoring system, it has to be said). The BBC reported a record-breaking 104 million online viewing requests overall across all sports, while in the US NBC figures were the lowest on record since their first Summer Games broadcast in 1988. It's early days to be analysing the impact of the heightened interest in climbing and its athletes on the sport as a whole, but one simple parameter that indicates a more immediate influence of the Games on new audiences is social media followers. 

Onlookers celebrate Janja Garnbret's performance.  © Dimitris Tosidis/IFSC
Onlookers celebrate Janja Garnbret's performance.
© Dimitris Tosidis/IFSC

Three days before the Sport Climbing event began, we noted the Instagram followers of all 40 climbers. Three days after the event, we took another look and calculated the increase for each athlete. 

Of course, for some athletes - especially the medallists - these numbers will continue to rise as they ride the wave of success in numerous media appearances over the coming weeks. For many, their numbers have been on a steady incline since qualifying for the Games and increasing their profile through media appearances.

Additionally, a climber like Adam Ondra already has a sizeable following - the second-highest in the climbing world after Alex Honnold, in fact - so the impact of appearing in the Olympics on Ondra's follower base was likely to be less considerable than it would be for a dark horse who pushed through the ranks (Ginés López, for example). It's also likely that some of these new followers are pre-existing climbers, so it's not a totally accurate portrayal of how climbing has been received by newbies alone.

Follower numbers for bigger accounts are represented as rounded-down or rounded-up figures (such as 38.1K or 100K) on Instagram, while smaller followings are more precise (1,576), so these numbers are not entirely accurate, but they nonetheless provide a rough insight into the general increase in followings. 

Climbing also had a bit of a moment on Google, as their Trends account reported that Sport Climbing was the top trending Olympic sport in Google Search on day 11/day 12 of the Games Worldwide.

Some notable changes and interesting shifts:

  • Sport Climbing athletes have gained around 692,957 Instagram followers in the last ~10 days.
  • The impact of being a finalist and having that extra bit of exposure is evident, especially for the men
  • Men's winner Alberto Ginés López has experienced a remarkable +342% increase (38K -> 168K)
  • Miho Nonaka (Silver medallist) attracted the most new followers out of the entire women's field at +95K (200 ->295K, +47.5% increase). Women's Gold medallist Janja Garnbret already had a substantial following and attracted +82K (277-> 359K, +29.6% increase).
  • The 18 women's accounts gained 374,655 followers between 31 July - 9 August.
  • The 20 men's accounts gained 318,302 followers.
  • There was a +18.69% increase overall for all athletes together (3,706,651 -> 4,399,608)

Instagram followers increase, finalists in green.  © Alan James
Instagram followers increase, finalists in green.
© Alan James

Total Instagram followers + increase in green.  © Alan James
Total Instagram followers + increase in green.
© Alan James



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11 Aug

i have a hunch that nonaka’s big increase of followers is down to the same phenomenon that becomes apparent when you search for her name on twitter: the general internet has become wise to her existence and has reacted with extreme thirst.


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