Asher HongGymnasticsNews

Taking Men’s Gymnastics Mainstream, One TikTok At A Time

by Blythe Lawrence

Fred Richard chalks up during men's podium training ahead of the 2024 U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Gymnastics on June 25, 2024 in Minneapolis.

To that decades-old conundrum — how to make men’s gymnastics more popular? — Fred Richard had no verbal answer.

It seemed like everything had already been said. That men’s NCAA gymnastics programs, a critical pipeline to the national team and Olympic success, are an endangered species. How something had to be done to entice audiences and electrify the fanbase. How there had to be a way to get younger kids to give men’s gymnastics a try.

Richard didn’t have the answers, but he did have a certain skill. Many, many skills, come to think of it.

So the Massachusetts native took his training and brought it to the masses on social media. Forget training routines — Richard’s TikToks and Instagram reels, posted under his nom de video FrederickFlips, strive to illustrate the playful side of what some consider a stoic sport.

“I never saw myself as an influencer,” Richard told Time earlier this year. But he realized years ago that just competing well would not be enough to get him and his sport the recognition it deserves.

“I was thinking about, how can I be seen, you know? These other sports have millions and millions of people watching, supporting them, but no one knows a single male gymnast. Ask anyone on the street, they’ll never know a single male gymnast. I want to change that.”

Richard and U.S. teammates Asher Hong and Khoi Young’s social channels are filled with reel-worthy antics and behind-the-scenes clips poking fun at the gymnastics’ often stoic demeanor. Picture-perfect presentations are mostly saved for competitions; social media is about gymtertainment. There are slapstick-y falls. Trolling their coaches. Hilariously failing to emulate famous routines. Trying different sports with other top athletes, then bringing them into a gymnastics gym to get a taste of what gymnasts do. More falling.

Richard was so serious about content creation that he spent his national team stipend to hire two videographers to help him when he got to the University of Michigan 18 months ago. The investment has helped make him something of an internet sensation, with 270,000 followers on Instagram and 663,000 — and counting — on TikTok.

When he learned he was the first U.S. man in 13 years to land on the all-around podium at the world championships last October, Richard immediately wondered how he could optimize the fact on social.

Asher Hong during men's podium training ahead of the 2024 U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Gymnastics on June 25, 2024 in Minneapolis.

“That might have to be one of my TikToks,” he told reporters, a wide smile lighting up his face. 

One of his most popular videos features Richard and Simone Biles trying to do each other’s skills on floor exercise (spoiler: they can’t, but it’s good fun watching them try).

Being so open on social media does open an athlete up to criticism, and some gymnasts, including U.S. champion Brody Malone, don’t want to deal with it. “It has its applications,” Malone conceded. Nevertheless, before the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, Malone deleted all social media apps from his phone. 

“I basically gave it to my dad and my girlfriend and was like, ‘Here, you guys can handle it for me,’” he said.

Yul Moldauer, the U.S.’ veteran leader at 27, manages his social media channels himself. He knows better than to take any negative comments at face value.

“I know that I have more supporters than doubters,” Moldauer said. “I want to show who I am, keep it authentic and at the end of the day, you just have to have that really good balance of knowing how much you can handle, how much you can post.”

At Stanford, Hong and Young have followed NCAA teammate Ian Gunther’s lead and built up healthy followings of their own. At his first world championships in 2022, Hong, who had been keeping tabs on his competitors on social media for years, could hardly believe he was competing among them.

“I’ve seen all these guys on Instagram and I’ve watched on the Olympic Channel, and I’m just like, ‘Wow, I’m here, with these guys,’” Hong said. “I’ve had a lot of fun.” 

Amidst all the hilarity, they also realize that what they are doing draws people in.

Young recently made a video of his “iconic” reaction to hitting big routines: a nonchalant shrug. 

His next post: a series of photos of him, his teammates, and his family mugging for the camera at this week’s U.S. Olympic Team Trials – Gymnastics in Minneapolis, with precise information about how and when people can watch it.