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Tuesday 16 September 2014

How Tinder set the Winter Olympics alight

The Games have always been a hotbed of lust, but social media has taken it to new extremes says Matthew Syed

Matthew Syed

Published 25/02/2014 | 02:30

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SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 19:  (BROADCAST-OUT)  Alex Deibold of the USA Snowboard team poses in the Olympic Park with his bronze Snowboard Cross medal  during the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics on February 19, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Alex Deibold (probably) snaps a new Tinder profile pic.
SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 14:  (BROADCAST-OUT)  (L-R) Joss Christensen,  Gus Kenworthy and Nick Goepper of the USA Skiing team pose in the Olympic Park during the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics on February 14, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
American skiers Joss Christensen, Gus Kenworthy and Nick Goepper. Photo by Getty
Russian curler Anna Sidorova. Photos by Getty

Here's a question for you: does it demean the Russian female curling team to say, as many have done in recent days, that they are quite possibly the hottest sports team on the planet? Does it detract from their skill as world-class athletes? I for one don't think so.

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The Winter Olympics has been a revelation: there are a lot of incredibly hot athletes out there in Sochi. Not just the Russian curlers but men and women from among the skiers, the snowboarders and the ice- hockey players. In terms of pure, physical marvelousness, this may be the best Games yet.

And this lends the athletes' village an even more heightened sense of sexual potency. It has long been established that the village is an arena for rather large amounts of extracurricular activity. When you place a large number of lithe, fit and energetic athletes in an enclosed compound they are going to go a bit wild.

This, though, is perhaps the first Olympics where hooking up has been so widely conducted on social media, specifically using Tinder, a matchmaking app that helps users browse all the single people in their location by using photos and online profiles (sex, age, interests, etc).

The free app, which has experienced a 400pc day-over-day increase of new users in Sochi, is simple to use: it flashes up random pictures of potential matches and if both parties swipe right for "yes", they can start instant messaging one another.

Jamie Anderson, a blonde 23-year-old who won gold in snowboarding, says that it had reached epidemic proportions among the competitors. "Tinder in the Olympic village is next level," she said.

Rebecca Torr, a New Zealand snowboarder, used Twitter to joke that she would use Tinder to "match with the Jamaican bobsled team". On her departure from Sochi, snowboarder Stefi Luxton posted an Instagram snap of Torr on her phone at the airport with the caption: "One last @tinder before she leaves Sochi... @PossumTorr #lolympics". The jokes went viral.

Other athletes have talked about a "world within a world", a description that will be familiar to any ex-Olympian.

Alex Deibold, an American snowboarder, told reporters: "They do provide free condoms, which I think is a really smart move on their part ... We're good-looking people all hanging out together and stuff like that is bound to happen." Gus Kenworthy, a US skier, says: "I guess it was the first thing people did when we got to the village – we checked Tinder." Well, quite.

The media, social and otherwise, has also been a forum for some sexually charged posing and posting.

Pictures of Anna Sidorova, the 23-year-old skip of the Russian curling team, with a broom, black lingerie and high heels have been retweeted thousands of times.

Tatiana Borodulina (inset right), a 29-year-old speed skater from Omsk living in Australia, posted photos in a wet, white dress. Dozens of other athletes followed suit.

In the build-up to London 2012, a similar thing happened.

Cyclist Victoria Pendleton and many other athletes posed for racy pictures, something that outraged feminists. But why criticise athletes who wish to flaunt their sexuality? Sometimes a willingness to strip off emerges not from the male-induced sexual insecurity of conventional feminist paranoia but from sexual self-confidence.

And it cuts both ways. The men's curling team from Canada released a calendar in the build-up to Sochi with photos of them in various states of undress. Mike McEwen, a 33-year-old with rather toned muscles, is on the cover wearing tight shorts and nothing else while balancing on concrete blocks.

Brad Jacobs, a world silver medallist, who is also featured, says: "Hopefully a lot of people will enjoy it, especially the women." Fair enough. Women enjoy the male form too.

The Winter Olympics has always had a slightly different feel to the summer version. Snowboarders in particular have long boasted that their passion is less about the science of marginal gains and more about artistic expression.

Lesley McKenna, a top British snowboarder, once said: "When you get a move absolutely right you are lifted into another place. You are going to be on a high for the rest of your life." Perhaps this philosophical sentiment is one of the reasons why the Winter Games are said to evoke a deeper spirit of camaraderie among the competitors.

The Olympic Games are ultimately about nerve, courage and much else besides. They are the ultimate test of sporting prowess. But they are also about the human body, its limits and its beauty. The original custodians of the Olympics understood this as well as anybody.

Back in the day, in the sanctuary of Ancient Olympia, Olympians (all male back then) competed in the nude.

The historian Lucian wrote: "Oh, I can't describe the scene in mere words. You really should experience first-hand the incredible pleasure of standing in that cheering crowd, admiring the athletes' courage and good looks, their amazing physical conditioning, their unbeatable determination and their unstoppable passion for victory."

The athletes in Sochi are, many of them, brilliant and beautiful too. We should not define them by their sexuality, but neither should we condemn them if they wish to celebrate it.

Life is too short to get all po-faced about athletes posing half-naked or getting together for a roll in the snow. They should enjoy this period for all it's worth. The Olympics is an experience they will never forget.

Irish Independent

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