Ahead of the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, it’s safe to say that the tone of media coverage and social media discourse was, to put it politely, not positive. People were asking why a city that was seeing spiking COVID cases was hosting an athletic showcase that would bring together potentially infectious people from all around the globe into one place, a showcase that people wouldn’t be able to watch in person.
Once the Games got underway, the exceptional performance of the Australian team in an Olympics chock-full of memorable moments shifted the narrative. Far from being negatively perceived, the top four words associated with Tokyo 2020 on social media were: win, gold, medal and women; and that positive tone permeated media coverage of the Games here in Australia.
Media coverage of Australia’s performance at Tokyo 2020 was led by female Olympians, and our record-setting dominance in the pool cemented Swimming as the most talked about sport during the Games, but the cavalcade of shock and iconic moments during Athletics made it a close second.
Female Australian Olympians were in the news more than male Olympians on 12 of the 16 days of competition, taking a clear lead during the first week of the Games as Australia’s female swimmers led the team to our greatest-ever performance in the pool. The gap narrowed in the second week, when the performances from Peter Bol, Ash Moloney, the Boomers and other male Olympians broke into the headlines.
The Olympic Games joined Coronavirus in dominating the news, with the Olympics and Coronavirus accounting for 90% of lead spots on major news websites at their peak, with the Games representing about a third of that share.
Golden swimmers our most prominent
Our female swimmers also led the top 10 most prominent Australian Olympians during the Games, with the top four spots going to Ariarne Titmus, Emma McKeon, Cate Campbell and Kaylee McKeown, all of whom saw significant rises in profile during the Olympics. Patty Mills was the most prominent male Olympian, with Kyle Chalmers and Peter Bol also making the top 10.
Big moments launch surprise stars into media spotlight
Every Olympics features athletes shocking their way into the headlines, and Tokyo was no exception. Ash Moloney’s Bronze medal in the Decathlon as he was cheered on by Cedric Dubler, resulted in a boost of 3530% to Moloney’s profile and 1900% to Dubler’s. Peter Bol galvanizing the nation as he ran his way into the 800m final saw his profile grow by 3165%, and Harry Garside’s Boxing Bronze growing his profile by 1682%.
In terms of the most-covered sports, Swimming led the way, with a 13.1% share of voice, closely followed by Athletics, with a 10.5% share.
Australian media also picked up on the shock performances of international athletes, with Italian athletes Lamon Marcell Jacobs, winner of the Men’s 100m, and Gianmarco Tamberi, who shared the High Jump Gold medal with Mutaz Essa Barshim going from no presence in Australian media to hundreds of mentions during the Games.