Skip to main content

Olympics Olympic athletes discover it doesn’t take much to burst the social media ‘bubble’

Canada's Gabrielle Daleman after finishing in the women's single skating short program at the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games.

MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images

Athletes like to talk about going into a "bubble" at the Olympics, which means shutting out the noise and distractions of the outside world, including unplugging from social media.

But then something good happens, and they log back on – only to find that the outside world is not a nice place.

Several athletes in Pyeongchang have found themselves ripped over their performance or their appearance or – in the case of American skier Lindsey Vonn – their politics.

Story continues below advertisement

After Vonn said in December that she planned to represent the people of the United States at the Olympics, "not the president," she became a target of Donald Trump supporters, who took particular delight in bashing her after Vonn failed to make the podium in the women's Super-G.

But even athletes who don't go looking for controversy are finding that 2018 is apparently also the troll Olympics.

Canadian figure skater Gabrielle Daleman said she studiously avoided social media heading into Pyeongchang to concentrate on preparing for her events, including the women's long program in the team figure skating competition that kicked off the Games.

But after a solid third-place performance in her event that helped Canada win a team gold medal, Daleman broke her own rule: she went on social media to celebrate the victory with friends.

The good feelings didn't last very long.

What Daleman saw were comments from people she didn't know complaining that she had been chosen over Kaetlyn Osmond to skate Canada's long program, in addition to criticisms about her choice of costume and the way she looked. None of the trolling seemed too concerned with the fact she had just won a gold medal.

"Canada shouldn't have picked her, why is she here?" Daleman said, recalling some of the comments she saw on social media.

"Some people were just being really critical about my costume, because my skirt, we only did one layer, so it's see through," she said. "So some people were being very negative or rude about that. But it's been the same costume that it has been all year."

Daleman has a reason for speaking up. The 20-year-old Toronto figure skater has been vocal in the past about being bullied as a child, where she suffered through a learning disability that made reading and writing difficult. And she has been outspoken about criticism she faced coming up as a gymnast and a figure skater, where she was told she wasn't graceful enough for skating – coded language designed to insinuate she was too big and that her shoulders were too broad.

Advocating against bullying has won her praise and supporters, and Daleman went on to win a bronze medal at last year's world championships, claimed the Canadian championship this season, and is now at her second Olympics. Though she didn't compete in Sochi, the Canadian team took her as an alternate, an accomplishment for someone who was just 16 at the time.

Not everything she saw on social media last week was horrible, though – there were compliments too. But the negativity reinforced her decision to shut down and disconnect. Daleman said she has since gone back to ignoring her feeds again.

"I just do what makes me happy," she said. "There are nice people out there, there's not nice people, you can't control what they say or do. You can only focus on you and what you can control."

What Daleman's trolls probably don't know about her is that she's her own worst critic. Insults on social media are nothing compared to the standards she sets for herself. It's a tactic Daleman uses to push herself to skate better, she said.

Story continues below advertisement

When she placed seventh in the individual short program on Wednesday, after slipping on a jump and allowing her hand to touch the ice, Daleman refused to adopt the traditional figure skating mindset of smiling through everything.

"To be honest I'm going to get angry over the next few days, and make sure it doesn't happen again," Daleman said, saying she uses the self-criticism as a motivator.

"I got angry from last year at nationals and I brought it into this year's nationals [where she won], and I brought it into the team event [where she won gold], and it's just about knowing how good I am," Daleman said.

"When I do silly mistakes like that, it's not a really good feeling."

Though Daleman is baffled by most of the online commentary and where it comes from, there's one particular set of tweets she admits she doesn't mind.

"A cool thing that's still trending on Twitter three weeks later is a huge thing that I'm looking like Kim Kardashian. I don't really see the resemblance," Daleman said. "But I'm down with it."

Story continues below advertisement

Daleman is a fan of Kardashian's KKW cosmetics line.

"I mean, if they want to give me the makeup – great!"

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Comments are closed

We have closed comments on this story for legal reasons or for abuse. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

Cannabis pro newsletter