Olivia Dunne will not be essentially the most gifted gymnast on the market, neither is she essentially the most iconic consultant of her sport. However in case you had been to overview the library of sluggish movement movies Dunne posts on TikTok, particularly these that includes her performing backflips and handsprings on the seaside (“beachnastics,” she calls it), you’d in all probability perceive why the 20-year-old New Jersey native is, by sure metrics anyway, the largest factor getting into American gymnastics.
Dunne has an Instagram following of 3.7m, greater than Derek Jeter, Cher or the reigning all-round Olympic gymnastic champion, Sunisa Lee. On TikTok, 7.2m accounts follow Dunne – tens of millions greater than Beyoncé. A number of the footage and movies contain gymnastics. However Dunne, who has lengthy blond hair, a heart-shaped face and kewpie doll options, has mastered the artwork of posting sports-agnostic selfies that ship her followers right into a tizzy. Often she wears a leotard, however largely she dons croptops, minidresses, angel wings.
Her captions are coy, her poses saucy. The posts encourage feedback that rain down like an infinite waterfall. “Spouse?” “Beautiful.” “Cookie?” “Cookie???” “I’d promote my kidney and my liver simply to fulfill you.” (“I’d like to fulfill you with ur kidney and liver nonetheless inside you,” got here Dunne’s reply.)
Dunne took up gymnastics at age three and bounded by means of a formidable slate of state, regional and nationwide competitions. She spent her childhood summers at rigorous coaching camps, giving up the sleepaway camp and bonfire alternatives that her classmates loved. Whereas she was sharpening her beam, bar and flooring routines, she additionally honed her social media savvy. (Dunne has had an Instagram account since she was 10, or for half of her years on Earth.)
She attends Louisiana State College on a full athletic scholarship. A leg harm saved her from competing with the Tigers in 2023 till her return this past weekend. However Dunne’s erratic competitors schedule has not interfered along with her being the highest-paid feminine faculty athlete within the US: she is value an estimated $2.3m and has said that she pulls in seven figures in endorsement offers a yr. No surprise: based on industry analyst On3, a single social media put up by Dunne is value $31,000.
Relying on who you ask, the frenzy for Dunne has had both a catalyzing or poisonous impact on the tradition of gymnastics. Her followers, largely white, teenage males – youngsters who don’t self-identify as gymnastics specialists by any stretch – have gatecrashed a subculture that has lengthy presupposed to have a good time a milk-fed model of childhood. This new wave of followers, underneath the affect of social media, have provide you with new issues to fetishize.
When Dunne attends a follow, it makes tabloid headlines. When she reveals up at meets, so do droves of boys, armed with lifesize Dunne cutouts and an unstinting enthusiasm that many see as menacing. Former Olympic gymnast turned sports activities broadcaster Samantha Peszek was at a current Utah meet the place droves of Dunne admirers congregated behind barricades outdoors the sector, screaming: “Give us Livvy! We wish her!” Peszek posted a video of the scene on Twitter, commenting: “That is really so scary and disturbing and cringey.” Dunne’s coach referred to as the scene “moblike” and beefed up the crew’s safety measures consequently.
For her half, Dunne posted a tweet that concurrently flattered her followers and urged them to sit back out: “I’ll at all times recognize and love the assist from you guys, however in case you come to a meet, I need to ask you to please be respectful of the opposite gymnasts and the gymnastics group as we’re simply doing our job <3”
Maybe essentially the most extraordinary side of the Olivia Dunne story, although, isn’t her skill to make a stir, however her skill to take action with out sharing a lot in any respect. She has managed to be super-famous but unknowable, leapfrogging over the standard and considerably embarrassing stage of a rising athlete’s profession the place one, say, writes an inspiring image ebook for kids or groups up with mainstream media to assist inform her story (based on representatives, Dunne was unable to talk with the Guardian).
Regardless of what number of hours you spend scrolling by means of the star’s on-line content material, you’ll almost certainly stay fuzzy on her politics and passions. You could discover that she is a fan of the self-help ebook The Secret, and he or she often retweets its gnomic maxims (for instance: “Thoughts become things,” “Something magnificent is coming to you today!”) As an alternative of creating a layered narrative, Dunne has created a vibe, one whose influences really feel extra Calabasas than squeaky clear.
And it’s paid off. Dunne has labored with Vuori, American Eagle Outfitters, and a plant-based complement firm referred to as PlantFuel. An autographed buying and selling card along with her likeness retails for $89. An Instagram account referred to as @livvys.husband, that includes a fictional dream hunk who brags about climbing Mount Everest and surviving shark bites might seem to be a intelligent parody with one thing to say concerning the youth and fame ecosystem. Its creator, nevertheless, purports to be a 17-year-old boy in Massachusetts who’s “simply attempting to get observed by her and possibly get a comply with.” (#livvydunnepleasenoticeme is a well-liked TikTok hashtag.)
Regardless of the debatable intentions of a few of her followers, Dunne is aware of they assist hold the cash flowing in. She incessantly engages along with her followers – posing for selfies or replying to their feedback – and doesn’t appear to tire of doing so. She instructed basketball stars Haley and Hanna Cavinder, two different faculty stars who’ve made a fortune away from their athletic careers and the hosts of the Twin Discuss podcast, that she is taking programs in advertising to spherical out her undergraduate diploma in interdisciplinary research. And after faculty, in one other yr or so, Dunne mentioned she will be able to think about herself shifting “someplace close to the seaside” – all the higher to revive the #beachnastics.
The 2021 passage of latest guidelines permitting faculty athletes to signal identify, picture and likeness offers, has ushered in a technology of stars who’re cultivating on-line personae that eclipse their profiles as athletes. “This can be a step again,” Tara VanDerveer, the Stanford girls’s basketball coach, told the New York Times about a few of the attractive social media content material that’s being created by feminine faculty athletes.
Is it, although? The fantasy that Dunne has cultivated is under no circumstances quirky and even refreshing. She’s cute, she’s attractive, she’s right down to no matter … we get it. However for Dunne, a primary on-line persona can also be a platinum parachute, one able to delivering her distant from a sport that’s blighted with sexual abuse scandals and that has a protracted historical past of fortifying unattainable beliefs.
Gymnastics, a sport the place there’s an ocean of distinction between a rating of a 9.8 and a 9.7, has at all times been about chasing perfection. At its highest degree, gymnastics asks its most promising athletes to provide every little thing – publicity to accidents, truncated childhoods and slapdash educations be damned. The absolute best final result is to keep away from fractured bones and predatory coaches, acquire a bucket of medals, and retire earlier than most of your childhood classmates have even launched into their skilled careers.
Dunne is concentrated on sticking a brand new type of touchdown. She is leveraging her hard-won reputation and repurposing her very self into the primary occasion.