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UCLA gymnasts use TikTok to stay in tune with each other and with their fans

UCLA gymnastics senior Felicia Hano has started making videos on the app TikTok in the last few months, along with some of her teammates. Hano’s most popular video to date has more than 1.3 million views. (MacKenzie Coffman/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Coral Smith

June 8, 2020 3:58 p.m.

When senior Felicia Hano first heard about TikTok, it was still called Musical.ly.

At that time, the only Bruin gymnast with an account was senior Mercedez Sanchez.

“We would all watch her videos, but none of us really got into it,” Hano said. “Then TikTok blew up, so (Sanchez) started wanting to make TikToks again, so I said, ‘You know what, I’m just going to get it and see what it’s all about.’ And we’re all obsessed with it now.”

Now, as the app passes two billion downloads worldwide, UCLA gymnastics has joined the now increasingly popular video platform. The team started making dance and gymnastics videos together on an official UCLA account back in February.

But now that the gymnasts have returned to their homes because of lockdown restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the app has become a way for the team to stay in touch, collaborating on TikToks or sharing their favorites with each other.

“I think everyone on our team has a TikTok now. Even if they don’t make videos, we just send each other different videos that are funny, or we’ll send them in the group chat,” Hano said. “Then whenever we call each other we talk about them, … it’s a really good way to keep us all connected.”

In addition to being able to keep the team connected during quarantine, sophomore Margzetta Frazier said the gymnastics team has also used the app to correspond with the wider community of UCLA athletes, which is very close despite them not playing on the same team.

One of Frazier’s best friends is UCLA men’s water polo junior attacker Nicolas Saveljic, and she said TikTok has allowed them to continue to interact and have fun, even though they are separated by an ocean.

“(Saveljic), who’s international right now, he can be on the app, and we make videos together. He’s all the way in Montenegro and I’m in New Jersey, and we’re making videos together,” Frazier said. “We’re always texting each other, and we’re saying ‘Can we be in this video, can we do this challenge,’ so it’s pretty organic how we get together and come up with ideas.”

In fact, one of the biggest viral videos coming from a UCLA gymnast features an athlete from another sport. Hano’s most popular video features her boyfriend, UCLA men’s basketball redshirt senior forward Alex Olesinski, and pokes fun at the issues that come with his 6-foot-10 frame. The TikTok currently has more than 1.3 million views.

“I did (it) with my boyfriend, who’s also a basketball player at UCLA, and we made that video in just five minutes while joking around, and then I posted it, … and the next day it blew up,” Hano said. “Honestly, the ones that I don’t really put much effort into, or don’t think too much about, are the ones that do really, really well.”

Junior Savannah Kooyman agreed that often the videos that require the least effort and planning end up the most popular, as they can almost never predict what their followers will like or what will go viral.

“I honestly have no idea, because sometimes I’ll post something and think people are really going to like it, and it won’t get that many views, and then some take me one minute to film, and then people like it, so I have no idea what the formula is,” Kooyman said.

While TikTok has been a great way for the team to stay connected with their friends, Frazier said she also likes being able to use the platform to connect with the team’s fans. The sophomore uses behind-the-scenes videos and commentary to give Bruin audiences insight into the lives of their favorite gymnasts both during quarantine and during the season.

“I did this series of videos about what really goes on in my head during routines, and people just ate it up, again millions of views on it,” Frazier said. “(I just like) shedding some light on the sport of gymnastics and showing that it’s not all glitz and glam and perfect 10s, but it can still be funny and light-hearted.”

At the same time, Frazier said the app has become more than just a platform for silly videos, even if she enjoys making those as well. The gymnast has observed how the app can be used to spread important information on the coronavirus pandemic and other world issues, while also reminding people that they’re not alone, even if they’re stuck in their house.

“The thing with TikTok is, at first it may seem like a bunch of humor, but there’s a lot of accounts that really spread awareness on the world situation and … to me it doesn’t feel like a distraction, it really feels like a connection, because anyone in the world can get the app,” Frazier said. “It feels like it’s a way to know there’s light at the end of this tunnel, and it doesn’t have to be miserable.”

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Coral Smith | Sports senior staff
Smith is currently a Sports senior staff writer. She was previously an assistant Sports editor for the softball, gymnastics, women's volleyball, swim & dive and rowing beats. Smith was previously a staff writer on the softball, women's volleyball, rowing and swim & dive beats.
Smith is currently a Sports senior staff writer. She was previously an assistant Sports editor for the softball, gymnastics, women's volleyball, swim & dive and rowing beats. Smith was previously a staff writer on the softball, women's volleyball, rowing and swim & dive beats.
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