USA Olympians on Instagram

USA Olympians Ranked by Growth in followers during August

I’m a huge fan of the Olympics and hold a party every time to watch the Opening Ceremonies. I thought it would be fun to see which athletes at the 2016 Rio games had the most social media followers and which ones saw the most growth in followers during the Games. The list above is all the USA Olympians who saw their Instagram follower counts double after the Games were over (only those with at least 4000 followers were included). The list below is the top 20  with the most followers regardless of growth. Male basketball players feature prevalently, not to my surprise. But it was nice to see Serena and Alex Morgan up there in the top 5 along with Simone Biles at #7.


To narrow it down (there’s around 10,000 athletes!), I focused on athletes from the USA and began compiling a list of their Instagram usernames. I ended up putting together a list of about 365 of the 558 USA Athletes* (I just ran out of manpower to get them all, but keep in mind a handful don’t have accounts). I had to manually plug a lot of their names into Instagram’s search engine. I lucked out that so many have verified accounts, even those with only a thousand or so followers. I was also surprised by how few DON’T have accounts and even more so that the youngest track athlete, Sydney McLaughlin, now age 17, didn’t have one! I wonder if their sponsors require they have a social media presence? Not sure. But to avoid some manual work, I wrote a little program in C# that would take the list of usernames, go to their Instagram profile and extract the follower count from the HTML and store the results. I ran this every day starting just before the Opening Ceremonies and just after.** My computer had issues and the final count is from September 2nd, much later than I hoped, but I think that’s still okay. I regret not getting all 558 athletes, too. It just took so much time to get their usernames. I tried to pick the most popular sports, which is subjective, so my data set feels flawed, but I think it’s still interesting to analyze nonetheless.


  • A good mix of males and females; not surprising to see gymnastics, swimming & diving athletes get a lot of followers
  • Michael Hixon- who’s that? I didn’t even remember him. But those divers sure have nice bodies in their Instagram pics…
  • Lilly King- I definitely remember thanks to her comments about a Russian swimmer’s doping bans and a “number one” finger wagging
  • Simone Manuel- gold-medal swimmer who got some attention thanks to being one of two gold-medal winning Simones and she is the first African-American female to get an individual (non-relay) medal. I’m sure her emotional reaction also helped bring in fans.
  • Laurie Hernandez stands out as someone who really shoot through the roof despite having a decent amount of followers to start with
  • Simone Biles went from 600K to over 3 million! Crazy!
  • Abbey D’Agostino is on there despite not winning a medal. She was the 5K runner who helped pick up and encourage a runner from New Zealand when they went down.
    • Other non-medalists on the list include divers Jessica Parratto and Kassidy Cook, and synchronized swimmer Mariya Koroleva. Is it a coincidence all three are women? I mean, Kassidy definitely got airtime, but I think their looks had something to do with it.
  • Happy that Ryan Lochte didn’t make the list due to his shenanigans, but wasn’t that far off- his count was up 69%.
  • Dalilah Muhammed, how won gold in the 400m hurdles, is Muslim but does not wear a hijab like fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad (she saw her count go up a sizeable 46%). Many Muslim women choose not cover up. (Source on Dalilah: Deadspin)
  • Curious if I run this several months from now, how many lost followers since some people will grow disinterested or see a picture and forget who it is they’re even looking at. Sad, but probably true. I’m a big sports fan and try to follow some sports year round, but you can only do so much
  • For comparison to athletes around the world: LeBron James has 24.8 million followers and Cristiano Ronaldo has 76.2 million!!
    • Non-athletes: Selena Gomez has 98 million, Taylor Swift- 90, Beyonce- 84, Ariana Grande- 83, and Kim Kardashian- 82 (million, of course).
      • I had no idea Selena Gomez was that popular…

*Sports include: Archery, Basketball, Beach Volleyball, BMX, Boxing, Canoe/kayak, Cycling, Diving, Fencing, Gymnastics, Rugby, Soccer, Swimming, Synchronized Swimming, Taekwondo, Table Tennis, Track & Field (115 of the 127 of them!), Trampoline, Triathlon, Volleyball, Weightlifting, Wrestling (I know what you’re thinking- what other sports do the other 100+ athletes participate in that I missed?)

**The beginning counts were taken from a variety of days from either a week prior or immediately after the opening ceremonies


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