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Apolo Ohno on How Fans Are Getting Closer to Team USA

Twenty years after first winning U.S. Olympic gold, Apolo Ohno continues to engage fans through emerging technologies.

Apolo Ohno
U.S. Olympic gold medalist Apolo Ohno has watched the fan experience change through advances in technology.

When Apolo Ohno became a household name, the social media we know today didn’t yet exist — even MySpace hadn’t launched. Sure, you could talk with people via internet chat rooms, but when it came to interacting with people and creating a fan experience, the 8-time U.S. Olympic Short-track Speedskating medalist rocked it old school: He’d meet people in person.

In the 20 years since Ohno first rose to prominence, technology has developed to allow him to connect with people in interesting and innovative ways. Case in point: In 2002, the year Ohno won his first gold medal at the Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City, his fans created the Ohno Zone website. While he couldn’t interact with them in real time then, today outlets like YouTube and Clubhouse allow for immediate engagement and instant gratification. That, for Ohno, changed the game.

“The access challenge went way down, because now getting access was easy and near instantaneous, and the quality of content and engagement goes straight up,” Ohno said. “You can ask a question right to this person, and you may see in real time someone answering that question in a way you feel like you’ve got a connection there.”

Ohno, like many athletes, now communicates directly with people through his own platforms. While he no longer competes professionally, he still has an impact on people through his health and wellness work, technology projects, and his forthcoming book, “Hard Pivot: Embrace Change. Find Purpose. Show Up Fully.”

In the book, Ohno conveys his five golden principles: gratitude, giving, grit, gearing up, and go. With these five ideals, Ohno wants to help his fans cultivate empathy, elevate their life’s purpose by giving back to others, build mental stamina to persevere through difficult times, prepare to meet the unknown with grace, and gain strength from taking risks for success and failure.  

“I want to increase the engagement with fans,” Ohno said. “The ultimate goal is just how can I uplift another person so they’re operating at a higher level, that they’re finding more fulfillment and joy and happiness in whatever trajectory and direction in life that they’re trying to pursue?”

Engaging fans via new realities

Ohno believes strongly in the power of digital innovation and platforms to bring people together, like on Clubhouse, where he can gather virtually with people to discuss hefty topics or simply just be social. He feels people can lean into these virtual spaces more to gain insight from each other.

Salesforce’s partnership with the United States Olympic and Paralympic Properties (USOPP) — which includes being an official partner with Team USA and the LA28 Olympic and Paralympic Games — similarly strives to deepen the connection between athletes and fans through an always-on immersive experience. The partnership is working to engage fans via social, email, and other channels. Ohno said the tools that currently exist will allow fans to consume and experience the Games better than ever. 

“Instead of selling, I don’t know how many courtside seats there are, 50, maybe 100 at the most, now they can sell 100 million around the world, and everyone can have a very similar and unique experience,” Ohno said. “What happens when you can follow the athletes back into the locker room and talk to them in real time as a fan to create that engagement? This is all going to be a component of leveraging the power of community to increase the engagement and visibility that occurs within these sporting experiences. That’s one side I think is going to transform the way that we interact.”

Ari Bendersky is a Chicago-based lifestyle journalist who has contributed to a number of leading publications including the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal magazine, Men's Journal, and many more. He has written for brands as wide-ranging as Ace Hardware to Grassroots Cannabis and is a lead contributor to the Salesforce 360 Blog. He is also the co-host of the Overserved podcast, featuring long-form conversations with food and beverage personalities.

More by Ari

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