Gold! 5 best social-media memes of the 2018 Winter Olympics

Commentary: From kids licking cameras to relatives shotgunning beers to Mario winning gold, it was an Olympics to remember.

Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
CNET freelancer Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
4 min read

The 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, had plenty of stunning victories and agonizing defeats. But as quickly as the medals were being won on the slopes and the rinks, memes were being born on social media.

From the shirtless Tongan flagbearer of the opening ceremonies to the Super Mario-lookalike gold-medal curler, here are five of the best social-media moments of these spectacular sporting events.

1. Tonga doesn't give a shirt

The first meme of the games ended up being the best meme of the games. Tongan athlete Pita Taufatofua competed in taekwondo in the 2016 Rio Olympics and came back to cross-country ski in Pyeongchang. He carried his country's flag into the chilly arena for the opening ceremonies shirtless, oiled up, and in traditional dress, earning the loudest applause of any team or athlete.

To no one's surprise, he didn't earn a medal, but when the closing ceremonies came around, he was back. But wait! Was that Taufatoua entering the 31-degree F (-0.5 Celsius) stadium properly dressed, in a winter coat? Yeah, but naw. The coat quickly came off, and the treasure chest was back on display. 

As for his ski race? He came in #114 out of #116 and waited with his other warm-weather ski friends at the finish line to celebrate with the last-place finisher, Mexico's German Madrazo.  According to Time magazine, Taufatofua said, "I'd rather be finishing towards the end of the pack with all my friends than in the middle by myself." Shirt or no shirt, how do you not love a guy like that?

2. Its-a me, gold-medalist Mario

Curlers don't look like your normal stud athletes. They look like, well, the rest of us, people who've enjoyed a beer or two in their time and are maybe carrying a few extra pounds. That's part of why it was so easy to embrace the US men's curling team, a bunch of dudes from Minnesota and Wisconsin whom you might've seen buying pulltabs and cursing over the Packers-Vikings game in any Upper Midwest tavern a couple months back. 

And among them was Matt Hamilton, who just happens to resemble a certain video-game plumber named Mario.

It helped that Hamilton himself was a vocal fan of the comparison, and a witty Twitterer to boot.

So when the team ended up in the gold-medal game against Sweden, even Mr. T pitied da fool who wasn't onboard for a Miracurl on Ice.

Thank you, Mario, but forget the princess in another castle -- our gold medal is right here around your neck.

3. Beer me

In Pyeongchang, it was always beer-thirty. On Feb. 11, teenage Red Gerard won America's first gold medal, claiming it in men's snowboard slopestyle. Viewers soon heard that Gerard slept through his alarm the morning of his competition because he was up late watching "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" on Netflix. His roommate woke him up and let him borrow his own Team USA jacket when Gerard couldn't find his own, and then it was off to Medaltown.

The teen's own giant family entourage was even more relaxed.  "They were shotgunning beers at, like, 8:30 in the morning," Gerard explained.

Beer's moment at the Games was just beginning. On Feb. 19, Canadian Rachel Homan competed in curling for the Great White North. But it was her husband. Shawn Germain, who drank his way into the spotlight, being caught on film double-fisting beers at 9 a.m. as he watched his wife compete.

In a classic tweet, Germain responded, "I'm not a drunk, I'm just Canadian." (Sadly, he's apparently deleted his Twitter account since then.) Tweets or no, he and the Gerard family raised the bar for Olympic supporters. 

But the beer meme wasn't dry yet. On Feb. 21-22, the US and Canada's women's hockey teams faced off for the gold in a heart-pounding game won in a dramatic shootout by the Americans. But before overtime came about, Canadian figure skater Scott Moir was very visible in the stands, drinking beer and yelling at the refs.

I'll drink to that.

4. Camera-lickin' good

Not all of the memes involved the athletes. In what should've been an ordinary crowd shot, a little kid decided to go rogue and get a taste of an NBC TV camera. The expression on the face of the presumably-mom who reels him back is awfully reminiscent of Jung-a Kim, the mom who desperately yanked her kids out of their "BBC Dad's" interview back in March of 2017.

Parents and others could relate.

5. Lettuce wrap this one up now

Pyeongchang may have been an unfamiliar place to many before the Olympics began. But the word itself does bear the slightest resemblance to the name of US Asian-themed casual restaurant chain P.F. Chang's.

Or at least that's what employees at Chicago's WLS-TV thought. They created a joke graphic dubbing the games "P.F. Chang 2018" for use in a satirical piece, but the joke was on them when that same graphic was mistakenly used in a serious news segment about the Games.

Even though the original sign was meant as a spoof, jokesters awarded the station the gold medal for its mistake.

Even the restaurant chain itself jumped onto the podium, 

The chain even temporarily renamed its signature lettuce wraps and offered them free with an entree purchase for one day only. (You missed it.)

Can't wait until two years from now when we do it all over again, but in summer!