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These Are the First Olympics of the Meme Era and It Kicks Ass

From Tit Stante's "#FreeMeekMill" message to Chloe Kim's gold medal soundtrack, the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang have been dank af.
Lauren O'Neill
London, GB
Image via Deadspin on Twitter

In the last week or so, there has emerged yet another cool, new way to realize you're old: by comparing yourself to the US team snowboarders currently competing at the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang, South Korea. Americans Chloe Kim and Red Gerard, ages 18 and 17 respectively, have both represented their country at the Games to the very highest level, having earned gold medals. As in: they have flipped their bodies around on snowboards so fucking hard that there is now officially nobody in the world who is better at flipping their bodies around on snowboards. They are winners, and you (27, on your sofa, covered in Cheeto dust, watching them on TV) well, you are not.


At past Games, Chloe, Red, and their fellow teen snow-sports prodigies might have felt like untouchable superhumans, but at this year's outing, they're actually refreshingly relatable. That's because while they might be amazingly (sickeningly) talented, they're also part of a generation which was raised on the internet, and which is now in the spotlight, on primetime TV, everywhere. Therefore, despite the gravitas of these young athletes' first big, world-stage outing, they've been tweeting, snapping, and behaving in ways which are easy to meme-ify all the way through. You might say that the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang are also the inaugural Meme Olympics, which rules because a) anything that helps to make sport feel more accessible is great, and b) it's really, really funny.

There are a lot of reasons why the 2018 Games have felt like the most culturally relevant in this era. One of those is that this is the first Olympic Games to allow skaters to perform to music with lyrics, following a rule change from figure skating's international governing body after the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014. The skaters have, accordingly, been going ham.

French figure skater Maé-Bérénice Méité, for example, piqued our interest when she chose to perform her routine to a medley of Beyoncé's "Halo" and "Run the World," and there have also been skates to "Despacito," and, uh, the Disturbed cover of "Sound of Silence" (that last one feels particularly destined for meme legend status, considering the song's line "Hello darkness, my old friend" is already common online parlance). Fairly predictably, it's been a hit with the internet, as stan Twitter has picked up on footage of the routines and disseminated it further afield.


The skaters aren't the only ones who've made some colorful musical choices: Chloe Kim (aforementioned 18-year-old, and the icon who tweeted about breakfast sandwiches and being "hangry" between the halfpipe runs that eventually lead to her gold medal win, inventing a meme in the process) also made internet headlines when she divulged what music she'd been listening to during her gold medal program. She told ESPN that she thinks she was plugged into Migos' "MotorSport" and Lady Gaga's "Paparazzi," as she performed her runs, and honestly I can't think of a more internet-ready piece of information this year than the fact that the Migos contributed to a gold medal win at the Olympics. It's a perfect, unexpected union of two parts of the zeitgeist, which always makes for online dynamite, and of course an 18-year-old, not yet out of high school, would know that.

There's also been some more serious internetting going on, whereby athletes have used their online platform not just to prove that they're cool, chill, and just like the rest of us, but for good too. The figure skater Adam Rippon (who recently became the first openly gay US athlete to medal at an Olympics) has used his enhanced public prominence to promote LGBT visibility at the Games and beyond, particularly on Twitter where he has made memes of both his eyebrows and those who dare to doubt him because of his sexuality. Meanwhile, Slovenian snowboarder Tit Stante has advocated for the prison release of rapper Meek Mill.


Stante was photographed with '#FreeMeekMill' doodled on his board, and that image was then shared with the world. It was designed to be a meme, and a meme it became. And while it's been reposted both for lols and in seriousness, the speed at which it zipped around the internet is just one reason why the Meme Olympics have been so awesome: they're a reminder of how small the world can be, and how good the internet can be at disseminating both information and jokes.

That sounds kind of syrup-y, but I think it's actually quite helpful to think about how the internet —and especially memes, the very point of which is to highlight our #relatable commonalities—can unify, and the Olympics, traditionally a wholesome event, is a good example of how it brings us together around something celebratory. And while the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang isn't the first time people have collectively gotten excited online about the Olympics (think of the fervor surrounding the Fierce Five and the Final Five, the US Olympic gymnastics teams from the Summer Olympics in 2012 and 2016 who captured internet imaginations for their close-knit girl gang spirit, for example), the mood this time is overwhelmingly one of accessibility.

For the first time, millennials are the sportspeople we look up to: they're tweeting, selfie-ing, listening to Migos and winning gold medals as they do it. These young athletes are cool as fuck by default because of their incredible abilities, but their use of and engagement with the internet is also a reminder that they listen to the same music and care about the same causes as the rest of us. They might be extraordinary, but they also probably have a Snapchat. That's a beautiful thing.

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