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One of the hottest trends of the 2014 Winter Olympics isn’t the snowboarding slopestyle or the colorful curling costumes — it is mobile dating app Tinder.
The social media giant, which was launched in September 2012, has seen a 400 percent rise in users in Sochi since the games began, with competition winners swiping right on their cell phones after they’ve swept the medals table.
“It has increased day after day,” founder and CEO Sean Rad tells The Hollywood Reporter, following a week of record-breaking numbers in Russia. “It is representative of existing Tinder users traveling to Sochi, new users picking it up, and then locals learning about it too.
“Tinder is already the largest-growing social app in a number of countries, but Russia is a place that prior to Sochi we didn’t have large penetration. Now it is quickly rising in rank to be an important country for us,” he explains.
PHOTOS: Sochi: Winter Olympics Kicks Off With White Lights and Icebergs at Opening Ceremony
“We have a large presence in the U.S., Canada, Australia, Italy, France, etc. and are one of the major apps around the world,” Rad added, who said he was unable to reveal the specific number of users.
“[Sochi] is a perfect launching pad for us. It just goes to show that Tinder is all about making new relationships — whether you are an average person or an Olympian. Tinder makes it easy and gives control back to the user as it gives an unparalleled amount of control over who you connect with,” reveals Rad. “People can see your profile, but no one can communicate unless you want them to. Until then, you are a voyeur of who is on there by swiping through matches.”
U.S. snowboarder Jamie Anderson was the first Olympian to shift the world’s focus from the slopes to the athletes’ cell phones when she said that Tinder was at the “next level” in the Olympic Village, adding that there were “some cuties on there!”
On Thursday, U.S. skiers Joss Christensen, Gus Kenworthy and Nick Goepper, all admitted to being on the dating app. “I guess it was the first thing people did when we got to the village — we checked Tinder,” Kenworthy told TODAY.com.
STORY: Sochi: NBC Execs Talk Bob Costas, Live Streams, Boosted Ratings and Curling
While the app that lets you rapidly swipe through potential dates faster than the Dutch speed skating team is certainly used for hooking up, Rad says it is the ultimate social tool for making all kinds of new relationships, even platonic ones.
“I don’t think we ever had that stigma of a hook-up site [like Grindr], from our users — it emulates the real world; it is like walking into a bar and catching someone’s eye.” However, you get a better chance to express yourself with photos or by seeing what friends you have in common, he explains. “It is totally elevated. You can use it however you want.”
Along with winter sports stars, both Modern Family actor Eric Stonestreet and model Sophie Monk have openly talked about using the trendy download, and Rad reveals: “We have celebrities, models … it is being leveraged by all types of people. We have a very mainstream audience, but if you swipe on Tinder, there are celebrity sightings all the time.”
VIDEO: Sochi: Russian Cops ‘Get Lucky’ at Olympics Opening Ceremony
While Tinder didn’t actively try to promote the app in Sochi, they “are surprised to a degree” about its success there. “We have experienced similar types of engagement around events like Coachella. Where existing Tinder users gather, they leave a footprint behind and impact the local audience — it’s like a virus that spreads,” the CEO explains.
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