Ilona Maher on Olympic Village TikTok

The women’s rugby player competes tonight, but she has already won Olympian TikTok.

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Casually emailing with an Olympian, don’t text. —Kate

I generally pick up on what’s going on at the Olympics from news headlines and conversations with my more athletically-inclined friends. This year is no different, except for the following things, which I've learned on my own: how to use the confusing trash system in the Olympic village dining hall, that a New Zealand team may have broken one of the cardboard beds, and why Olympians tend not to flirt IRL (they’re all intimidated by each other). 

This intel is thanks to TikTok, which has received appropriate praise for its unprecedented look behind the scenes at the ceremonies. But one athlete in particular has been carrying Olympic Village TikTok on her back: Ilona Maher

Maher, a 24-year-old competing in her first Olympics on the women’s rugby team, hails from Burlington, Vermont, and began appearing on my For You Page a few days ago. Now, she’s in practically every other video, participating in TikTok trends with her teammates and coach and answering extremely specific questions like “What happens if you spill water on your cardboard bed?” (Answer: You’re an Olympian. You don’t spill anything.)

“It’s been fun to see people really enjoy me being my genuine authentic self,” Maher tells me over email. “I think people just see us as tough rugby players or Olympians when really we are also funny and emotional and people, too.”

With over 448,000 followers, Maher regularly receives hundreds of thousands if not millions of views on her videos, getting shoutouts from popular creators like Hank Green. But it’s not just viewers at home who are connecting with her videos.

“It's a cool community of TikTokers in the village,” she says. “Already, a diver and I are planning a collaboration. Other Olympians will come up to me and say how much they love my TikToks, so it's kinda cool to also show other Olympians what other people are like.”

Fellow TikTok Olympians Maher recommends following include her teammates, USA weightlifter Katherine Nye, Great Britain rugby player Abi Burton, and Chelsea Gonzales, a softball player on Team Mexico.

All of Maher’s TikTok work—she says it’s “definitely become a second job”—has been leading up today: the first USA rugby game against China at 9pm EST. She hopes that having spent the past week or so getting to know viewers on a personal level, they’ll be more likely to tune in and give Team USA their support.

Even after the Olympics, Maher plans to keep using social media to share her more personal side, and hopefully shine a spotlight on a less-talked-about sport.

“I am most excited that it is spreading the word on rugby and getting people interested in this sport we play,” she says.

You can follow Maher on TikTok here, on Instagram here, and watch her Olympic debut at 9pm EST on NBC!