14 months ago, I took a look at the top-20 swimmers in the World in terms of Twitter followers. Dara Torres led that list with 83, 685 fans. Our own Mel Stewart, a 1992 Olympian, was in 4th place.
Oh, how the times have changed.
Now, 6 medals and the “social media Olympics” later, Michael Phelps has become the first swimmer* to surpass 1,000,000 followers. As of posting, he sits at 1,033,817 loyal fans. When we looked in April of 2011, he had only 24,000. That’s an average uptick of over 2,000 swimmers per day since we last recorded his total.
This provides Phelps with a huge platform to talk about the sport. Now that he’s retired, he’s said many times that his new ambition is to grow swimming. For now, most of his followers are coming to find information about him, but if he can steer even a tenth of those million followers toward the new generation, toward college swimming, toward the Grand Prixs and the FINA World Cup, and everything else in the world of swimming, then we might have truly turned a corner. Swimming might truly become the four-year sport that we’ve always wanted it to be.
He wasn’t the only one to make huge gains during the Olympics. Ryan Lochte is about to pass 800,000 and has gotten some huge boosts from celebrities, including most recently Nick Jonas and his 4 million-strong fan-base.
Phelps might have him topped in terms of celebrity contacts, though, with a Tweet from President Obama. Both men got props from hip-hop superstar Lil’ Wayne.
On the women’s side, Torres is still the queen. Despite not making the Olympic Team, she spans multiple generations of fans, and comes in at 282,000. Even with a big boost from NBC, Missy Franklin is still at 265,000, though something tells me she won’t be that low for long.
Near the top of the international contingent is Brazilian Cesar Cielo. He is wildly popular in his native Brazil, the kings of the online Viral community, and surpassed 200,000 followers while racing in London. Britain’s Rebecca Adlington, though, outdoes even the Brazilian sprint king: buoyed by the support of the home nation, she’s pushed over a quarter-of-a-million followers.
*Of course, we’re still not including Australian 15-year old pop-star Cody Simpson, who has over 3,000,000 followers. His former coach Denis Cotterell once said he thought Simpson could qualify for the 2016 Olympics if he could find time away from his career to train. Yeah, that’s the same Denis Cotterell who has trained World Record holders Sun Yang and Grant Hackett.