It was about three weeks ago when profiles on my dating apps started to look very different. Shirts were off, dumbbells replaced puppies and there were fewer people looking for English tutors. Naively, I thought maybe this was the universe finally being good to me. I’ve been on some pretty questionable dates since moving to Tokyo, and haven’t been any closer to becoming someone’s main squeeze. Perhaps Tinder and Bumble stopped taking my love life as a joke and were instead rewarding all my heartbreak with attractive people.
But once I scrolled down their profiles a little, I realized it wasn’t my luck. There was a very different—but still welcomed—big O that could explain what I saw: the Olympics.
By now, it’s no secret that the Olympic Village is the ultimate wingwoman. Pack thousands of Olympians at the peak of their athleticism, mix that with the insurmountable stress that is competing, and naturally, many will find that there’s no better way to expend one’s energy than to have a nighttime companion.
In a pre-pandemic year, mere mortals like myself could have met one of these athletes. But restrictions on who enters and leaves the Olympic Village mean there’s no chance I’d get to my Romeo inside. Outcome-wise, there would be no point in matching with athletes on these dating apps, yet by now, Gen-Zs like myself understand attraction knows no physical boundaries. Besides, I think flirting is half the fun.
Part of me was also curious as to why athletes were using dating apps, despite COVID-19 restrictions. Were they also feeling the suffocating loneliness of a romantic with too much time on their hands? Or maybe they wanted some sort of connection to the outside world, what with being holed up in one corner of Tokyo? So, neither waxed nor vaxxed, I set off to enjoy my (virtual) hot girl summer.
I use both Tinder and Bumble, but the latter is my go-to matchmaker. My Bumble profile features photos that represent what I look maybe 10 percent of the time. One is a profile picture for work (sorry VICE), while another is of me staring down cherry blossoms. To put forth my “vibe” in my bio, I also have a fun fact about eating lettuce. Recently, I learned that you can tear off lettuce leaves one by one, instead of having to subject yourself to the watery white parts at the end of your salad.
Now, it was time for swiping. I don’t have a type—actually, no, that’s a lie. I do, but it’s not based on a list of physical characteristics. It’s a confident person who can make me laugh, with whom I, of course, feel some kind of chemistry. Otherwise, I’d be etching Steven Colbert's name on park benches.
I was surprised to find just how many Olympic-related people there were on the apps. There were engineers, volunteers, journalists, athletes and technicians, all for the Tokyo Games. Once I matched with Olympians (my lettuce fact worked), I was a tad nervous. Some were famous, so naturally I was star-struck and assumed they wouldn’t swipe right because they’ve seen plenty of falsie-wearing, lettuce-eating girls like me. Thank you, insecurities.
One of my favorite parts of dating as a single adult is mutual, respectful ghosting. Nothing says maturity like accepting when you don’t click, instead of forcing hours of meaningless conversation. A few of my chats died out, but thankfully, of natural causes.
The conversations that did continue were so entertaining—motivated people working hard for one goal are attractive, and it was nice to hear about that energy. I’ve been invited to visit certain parts of the world, asked why I was still single, and told I was too cute to be real (huge ego boosts, might I add).
Of course, I also got a few rejections when I’d ask for interviews about why Olympians were on the app during the games. Some flat out said no and unmatched with me, while others gave me conditional yeses: Only after they finished competing could they speak. Others cited restrictions on which media they were allowed to speak to during their actual competitions.
But alas, one of my matches agreed to chat on the record. Can Akkuzu, a French table tennis player, said he was using the app to “meet new people from the village, see how it goes,” he told me. He said it was a “pity” he couldn’t meet me, and that on a scale of 1 to 10, his heartbreak and frustration were a “9.5” (Not sure how I lost out on that additional 0.5).
Even before coming to Japan, athletes are expected to get tested for COVID-19 every day for a week, as well as self-isolate. Once at the village, they’re tested daily, expected to follow social distancing guidelines and aren’t allowed to leave. Tokyo is experiencing a fourth wave of COVID-19 and there’s a fear that if athletes mix with locals, cases would spike further and potentially lead to a new variant. Thus, athletes are kept in a separate world from residents, the price they pay for competing this year.
On a normal year, Akkuzu vouched the Olympics were a wild time. Though he didn’t compete at Rio 2016, his friends were there and shared their stories with him. “Let’s just say the bathrooms were not only used to take showers,” he said. Past reports support this claim of course. During the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, Jamie Anderson, an American snowboarder, said “Tinder in the Village was next level,” according to Us Weekly. Speaking to athletes, ESPN reported couples tumbling out of rooms, overflowing duffel bags of condoms and a whirlpool orgy.
Within the Tokyo 2020 village, athletes have rules. They can’t hug, high-five or eat dinner with non-team members. There were even reports that the cardboard beds in athletes’ rooms this year were to discourage sex within the (usually) rampantly promiscuous village. Though that theory has been debunked, condoms, which were usually distributed to athletes during the games, won’t happen—instead, they’re expected to take them home as souvenirs.
Most athletes said they were on the app to meet people, whether it was athletes from other sports or people from their own countries. Chatting on dating apps, as many of us can attest to, has been a saving grace during COVID-19 restrictions. It pulls them out of their head, under the coy wrath that is romance.
Akkuzu said he visits Tokyo or Sapporo once a year for competitions, and before he sets foot in Japan again, he’ll be sure to “write” me “next year.” I’ll let my editor know if a sequel is needed.
Though I’m still as single as when I first started swiping, I had a fantastic time matching with athletes who were here. As expected, they’re no different from regular people, though maybe slightly more chiseled and better at replying—I chalk it up to their elite time management. It was entertaining learning about each of their sports and what they thought of Tokyo from the little they’ve been able to enjoy. It’s also such fun having banter with athletes from different cultures. It’s affirmation that sexual tension is a) universal and b) can definitely be felt virtually. I’ve also come away with a new crush.
There’s something exhilarating about flirting, knowing there’s little to no possibility of you ever meeting. Both the athletes and I know that our relationship begins and ends with banter, but we’re still here for the ride. Nothing concrete can be taken from this, but I am hopeful that one day I’ll be able to redeem an open invitation from a certain Prince Charming (if you’re reading this, you know who you are).