Unlike most things in 2016, having an engaged fanbase is not necessarily going to help you become a more successful career athlete. If you can run faster, jump higher, or score more points than the rest, then you’re going to make it; no audience engagement needed. But that’s not to say that sport doesn’t boast big personalities. Consider Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, and Pelé: they displayed no particular interest in winning over their audience or seeking celebrity, but it was impossible not to be drawn to them.
Those three figures existed in a time before social media offered us unparalleled access into the private lives of public figures. Now, it’s not uncommon to see a soccer player Instagramming his night with Justin Bieber, or Team U.S.A. basketball stars miming a Vanessa Carlton song on Snapchat. Sure, being visible online often helps big-name athletes keep their sponsors happy, but lots of them are simply good at the internet and want to let followers in on the excitement of their lives.
This summer’s Olympics will play out across more social platforms than ever before, and it’s fair to say that the best coverage of the Games will come from the athletes themselves. Check out The FADER’s picks out below and hit follow.
Sarah Attar, Saudi Arabia, Marathon
Why Follow? In 2012, Attar was one of two women selected in the Saudi Arabian Olympics team after the country took female members for the first time. But in her spare time, Attar is a well-regarded photographer, who takes artistic photos of nature worthy of National Geographic.
Neymar, Brazil, Soccer
Why Follow? He’s already one of the most popular athletes on Instagram with over 55m followers, and Neymar knows how to hold his audience’s attention. He parties with Justin Bieber, connects with Steph Curry, and likes to show off his ever-growing tattoo collection.
Seye Ogunlewe, Nigeria, 100m
Ibtihaj Muhammad, U.S.A., Fencing
Why Follow? Muhammed is such a prominent figure on social media that she's got her own hashtag, #ibtihajneverstops. She is the first American woman to compete in the Games wearing a hijab. Recent highlights from her feed include the time she met Michelle Obama, and laughing along with her fellow Muslim athletes struggling to train as they fast during Ramadan.
Usain Bolt, Jamaica, 100m
Why Follow? World’s fastest man Bolt brings his exuberant personality to the internet with his often hilarious posts. He recently Snapchatted his last KFC before the Olympics, saying “After this, it’s all work, baby.”
Miles Chamley-Watson, U.S.A., Fencing
Why Follow? Chamley-Watson describes himself as having “Millionaire Status, Billionaire Focus” in his Twitter bio. As his Insta shows, he’s been training to a soundtrack of Migos as he prepares to go for gold.
Luik triplets, Estonia, Marathon
Why Follow? Nicknamed The Trio To Rio, Leila, Liina and Lily Luik will make history when they take part in the marathon at the Rio Olympics as the first triplets to complete in the Games. The sisters are always together and share jokey pictures, like this memorable #tbt.
Houry Gebeshian, Armenia, Gymnastics
Why Follow? Massachusetts-born Houry represents her parents' native Armenia and, when she’s not competing, works as a physician’s assistant. Her posts — with some selfies in training gear and others in scrubs — candidly reflect the two side of her life.
Claressa Shields, U.S.A., Boxing
Why Follow? Claressa “T-Rex” Shields is a favorite to win gold in Rio. She Snaps herself dancing to “Panda” and fills her Instagram with a mixture of training pictures and fun moments, like the time she told Usher she could beat him in a fight when they met at The ESPYs.
Brittney Griner, U.S.A., Basketball
Why Follow? Brittney Griner has an outspoken political voice, and regularly posts about Black Lives Matter on her Twitter. She’s also hooked on Pokemon Go.
Trayvon Bromell, U.S.A., 100m
Why Follow? Bromell is fast. Really fast. A massive rap fan, he regularly tweets about Lil Uzi Vert and Kodak Black and fills his timeline with hilarious memes. He’s also down to pose with a cute dog when the time is right.
Nia Ali, U.S.A., Heptathlon
Why Follow? Ali says her first love is dance, and posts cute videos like the one above, where she shows her fun choreographed moves to M-City J.R.’s “Addicted To My Ex.” Check out her cute Team U.S.A. bestie, Brianna Rollins, too.
Serena Williams, U.S.A., Tennis