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Winning Isn't Everything
China's younger generation injects a sense of fun into the Olympics
By Yuan Yuan | NO. 33 AUGUST 18, 2016

 

China's swimmer Fu Yuanhui celebrates after winning a bronze in the women's 100-meter backstroke on August 8 (XINHUA)

Fu Yuanhui, a Chinese swimmer at the 2016 Rio Olympics, has had a new Internet meme created for her impulsive and hilarious post-race interviews.

After the 100-meter backstroke semi-final on August 8, she was interviewed poolside by a Chinese broadcaster. When the reporter informed her that she'd actually broken the 59 second barrier, Fu was blown away: "58.95?! I thought I did 59 seconds! Wow! Am I so fast? I am very pleased!" she exclaimed.

Having been questioned on whether she had reserved some energy for the upcoming final, Fu replied, "No, not at all! I've already assumed my final form. This is my best time ever!"

The last question, on whether she saw more hope in the upcoming final, was met with an equally unorthodox response: "Not really. I am already quite satisfied."

Her reaction was soon the most trending item on Chinese microblogging service Weibo, while "final form" has become a new buzz-word, and netizens animate snapshots of her interviews.

"She is my goddess, and I love her so much," commented one microblogger. "She deserves a gold medal for this interview regardless of the swimming result."

But she wasn't finished there. In the final the following night, Fu touched the wall in a dead heat for third behind Hungarian winner Katinka Hosszu and America's Kathleen Baker. Fu, unaware of her triumph, trudged over to the same broadcaster for another interview.

"Even though I didn't win a medal..." While she was intending to say some words to cheer herself up, the reporter interjected, "But you did get a medal, you are third."

After several seconds of incredulity, she exclaimed, "Huh? What?! Third? I did not know! Well, then I think that's not bad at all!"

"Actually, I watched the final not for her result but for her response at the post-race interview," said 40-year-old Jiang Wenyuan, a Beijing resident. "She is adorable and fun and so different to many other athletes I have seen before."

 

Flag bearer Lei Sheng leads the Chinese Olympic Team during the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games at Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on August 5 (CFP) 

The fun games 

Jiang said this year she was not that interested in the Olympics, even before considering the inconvenience of the time difference. "I think many people in China regard the Olympics as a purely sporting event," Jiang said. "But in the past we have laid on so much heavy stuff and almost forgotten that it's just a sport competition."

However, Fu's presence dragged Jiang back to the TV screen. For Jiang, the new generation has expressed a much more positive and independent attitude toward the Olympics. "We are used to athletes' crying

after missing out on gold medals, but this new generation is so different. It seems that they enjoy taking part more and love to derive fun from the experience."

Fu is not the only Chinese athlete to wow the audience in such a way. Zhang Guowei, a high jumper born in 1991, has drawn lots of attention by doing a dance every time he successfully cleared the bar.

"It is hard to tell what type of dancing he is doing, sometimes it looks like Taichi, and sometimes it is just random, but all in an exaggerated way," commented one netizen. "He is more like a dancer that stumbled into the high jumping team." The Olympic high jump final, if Zhang can qualify, is scheduled for August 17.

Chen Rui, Executive Director of online streaming platform Bilibili.com, referred to the difference between China's millenials and previous generations. They are the direct beneficiaries of China's reform and opening-up policy. They've had more resources to develop than their parents' generation," Chen noted.

Zhao Jun, General Manager of a sports copyright operator, commented on the generational shift of sports audiences. "China's younger generation may one day form their own way to appreciate sport. They will pursue happiness, rather than money and fame," she said.

In this new era, stars like Fu are not just heroes and heroines, but are also figures that spectators can relate to. They reflect the spirit of generation Y. On Fu's 20th birthday she posted, "I have been living in this world for 20 years, and I have been searching for the meaning of my life... It's simple. Happiness. Love. Gratitude. These are what I want."

 

Alex Hua Tian of China riding Don Geniro jumps during the eventing team final and individual qualifier on August 9 (CFP) 

There's more than winning 

In a recent survey by Huanqiu.com, a leading news portal in China, posed the question "do you think winning a gold medal is the most important thing in the Olympics?" More than 40 percent of the 10,000 respondents said they didn't care much whether the

athletes can get gold medals or not. To enjoy sport is more important.

"Sport has become quite popular now among my friends," said He Yan, a student at the University of International Business and Economics, who has taken part in the Beijing International Marathon since 2014. "I used to be a bookworm and love to stay in the dorm the whole day, but since I was dragged to the marathon in 2014 by a friend, I couldn't stop."

Different from the tedious long run that He had expected, some runners dressed up like they were at a Halloween party. "Running suddenly became an enjoyment in this way," He said. "The result is no big deal, just join and enjoy. This feeling is amazing."

"The swimmer Ning Zetao is my idol," said Qiu Xiaozhi, a college student from Beijing Forestry University, to Beijing Review. "He is handsome and he has a good figure. I don't care about the result at all."

When Ning failed to qualify for the 100-meter freestyle final, many expressed their understanding. "I think it shows our more confident and maturing attitude toward the Olympics," said Qiu. "The competition is just one part of our life, and after the event, the athletes still have far to go. It is not the end anyway."

Liu Xiang, a female swimmer specializing in the 50-meter freestyle, has stated her goal is to try and win a medal. However, the pressure doesn't appear to be showing. Having arrived in Rio, the swimmer wasted no time in shooting a selfie video showing her practice routine, attracting tens of thousands of followers.

A follower commented that, "She looks like an angel," adding that, "I hope more athletes can show us their life in Rio in this way. We want to know more of their life besides the competitions."

Deng Wei, the weightlifting Olympic champion who broke two world records in one lift, is a 23-year-old with dyed-red hair. "I love fashion and delicious food," Deng told Xinhua News Agency during an interview. One month before heading to Rio, she was also interviewed by fashion magazine ELLE China. She said, "It was a pity that I just wore weightlifting attire when being snapped for ELLE China, but I do look good in the pictures," she laughed. "I am going to find a position in the fashion industry."

An ode to sport 

Xiao Fei, a 42-year-old mom in Beijing, has been taking her two sons to an equestrian center since last year. "I think this sport can help one to be more elegant and patient, and it's a fabulous way to interact with the horses," she told Beijing Review. "It is not popular in China now, but I believe more people will love it in the future."

Besides equestrian training, the boys also go swimming at least three times a week. "Michael Phelps is their idol," Xiao remarked. The elder boy once wrote a piece on the Olympic swimmer's story, citing him as an inspiration, not only for swimming, but also in dealing with setbacks in his study. "The spirit of sport, not the result, is what matters most—I am so glad that they can approach sport in this way," she added.

Hong Kong-raised Alex Hua Tian is currently China's first and only equestrian Olympian. The 26-year-old—who made history at the 2008 Beijing Olympics by competing in a sport little known to most people in China—finished in eighth place in Rio, the country's best-ever result in the sport.

At the Beijing Games, Hua was the youngest competitor in the Olympic event's history. Aged 17, he relinquished his British citizenship and became a citizen of China. "I feel very, very Chinese and am proud to compete for the nation. I always have been [proud], especially in a sport where they haven't had any presence at all, historically," he said.

Hua hopes to compete at Tokyo 2020 and his father predicted that he can complete in 10 Olympic Games. However, for some senior athletes, Rio will be their swansong.

When 33-year-old badminton player Lin Dan announced his involvement in Rio on WeChat, friends expressed their surprise, since the sport is suitable for young athletes due to its emphasis on speed, agility and lightning reflexes. "I feel proud about these comments, because in their eyes, I have done enough to earn my retirement. But I want to create more history, break more records and push even further at my age. I think I'm likely to win it again."

After competing in three Olympics and experiencing wildly contrasting outcomes, Lin said his attitude is now different. "I am far more mature than before, I can accept losing now," he admitted. From being someone that nobody had heard of to being cast as a rebel, and the heavy scrutiny he faced in 2004, Lin has a wealth of experience to draw on. "I sucked it all up and went on to win in both 2008 and 2012. I did nothing different from before so I'm always giving my best."

His old friend and chief rival, Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia, is in Rio for his fourth Olympics too. Like Lin, this will be Lee's final hurrah at the world's most prestigious sporting event. "He is still the most dangerous and strongest opponent out there. I respect him, and for me to go further in Rio, I need to learn from him," Lin noted.

Copyedited by Dominic James Madar 

Comments to yuanyuan@bjreview.com 

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