Airbnb Is Hosting an Olympics Festival Featuring Virtual Hangouts With Athletes

Lex Gillette, Rui Hachimura, and Kerri Walsh Jennings are among the featured athletes.

Courtesy of Airbnb
Courtesy of Airbnb

The coronavirus pandemic hasn't halted our lives altogether, but as the health crisis rages on, nearly every facet of how we live has changed. The Olympics are no exception. While the 2020 Tokyo Games have been postponed, Airbnb has found a way to satiate our appetite for competition until the Opening Ceremony in 2021. 

The online rental marketplace, which recently took its bookable travel experiences virtual, is hosting an online summer festival with actual olympians and paralympians. The athletes involved, including basketball powerhouse Rui Hachimura, three-time beach volleyball gold medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings, and the greatest blind long jumper in history Lex Gillette, will each hold a unique, interactive experience for fans. 

"This is an opportunity," Gillette told Thrillist of the chance to participate in Airbnb's olympic festival. "This is like going to the restaurant and getting the appetizer. This is going to satisfy me until the meal comes." 

The five day event -- organized in partnership with both the International Olympic Committee and International Paralympic Committee -- is set to feature over 100 online experiences with a special opening act co-hosted by former sprint and hurdling athlete Colin Jackson, multi-sport olympian Pita Taufatofua, and wheelchair racer Baroness Tanni-Grey Thompson on July 24. The kickoff marks the same day the Tokyo 2020 games were set to begin. 

Each session (now open for booking) will look different. You can make traditional Swiss apple pie with olympic climber Petra Klingler, work out with No. 1 women's tennis star Naomi Osaka, or join a dinner party with Colin Jackson. Most experiences hover around $25, and this isn't your run-of-the-mill live stream. You're connecting with actual athletes via Zoom.

Courtesy of Airbnb

“It gets the world collected together with that whole teamwork, camaraderie feel," Gillette said. "We really want to get a chance to know everyone. And personally, I’m really huge on listening to voices. That’s how I identify people." 

Gillette himself, a completely blind four-time paralympic medalist that boasts a world record for the long jump, was set to return to the games for another shot at the podium. And while he's admittedly bummed with the postponement, Airbnb has given him another purpose. 

"I have a slogan: no need for sight when you have vision," he said. "People read it and they’re like, oh man that’s specifically for someone that’s blind. In actuality, it’s for all of us. Sight is never the determining factor in us being successful or not. It’s our ability to see a vision, be a vision, and have the powers to bring it into fruition." 

For the five-time paralympic athlete, the Olympics delay and this opportunity to chat with virtual festival-goers means a chance to invoke that in others. 

"The long jump has been a catapult and trampoline that has launched me to a space that I would have never imagined," Gillette said. "The goal is, through my experience, I want people to know that they can navigate down their own metaphorical runway and leap into their dreams." 

Courtesy of Airbnb

Gillette will host three virtual sessions during the actual festival on Friday, July 24, at 10am, 5pm, and 7pm EST -- and a whole host of other dates afterwards, as well -- to discuss training, his gratitude for teamwork, and that power of vision, not sight.

“We're just kicking back. It’s definitely going to be an educational situation, but I don’t want you to feel as though, ‘Oh, we’re in class right now and the professor’s giving us information for the test," he said of the experience. "I want you to open your mind and experience what I experience on a daily basis." 

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Megan Schaltegger is a staff writer at Thrillist.