A 19-year old California-born figure skater faced a firestorm on Chinese social media after falling flat on the ice and finishing last in the women’s short program team event Sunday.
Zhu Yi was eager to prove herself to the Chinese public after making her Olympic Debut for China. During the event, she was the first to compete on the second day of the figure skating team event, gliding into the ice rink to loud cheers from the mostly Chinese crowd at Beijing’s Capital Indoor Stadium.
But she tumbled and crashed into the wall after a failed jump in the opening combination, and missed another jump later in the program, finishing with the lowest score of the event.
China consequently fell from third place to the fifth in the standings, though it was just enough to progress to the next round of competition.
“I’m upset and a little embarrassed,” Zhu said after the race, wiping her tears. “I guess I felt a lot of pressure because I know everybody in China was pretty surprised with the selection for ladies’ singles and I just really wanted to show them what I was able to do but unfortunately I didn’t.”
On Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform, the hashtag “Zhu Yi has fallen” gained 200 million views in just a few hours. People have even started to question why Zhu, an American-born skater, was picked to represent China at the expense of an athlete born in the country.
“This is such a disgrace,” said a comment with 11,000 upvotes.
She also has faced criticism in China for not being able to speak fluent Chinese. “Please let her learn Chinese first, before she talks about patriotism,” a Weibo user said on Sunday.
The attack on Zhu stands in stark contrast to the huge popularity of California-born Eileen Gu, a freestyle skiing prodigy who is also competing for China.
The 18-year-old has charmed the Chinese public with her fluent Mandarin and familiarity with Chinese culture, having grown up spending summer holidays in Beijing becoming China’s unofficial face of the Winter Olympics, featuring heavily in state media coverage to promote winter sports, as well as advertisements for Chinese brands.
By Sunday evening, the hashtag appeared to have been censored “Zhu Yi has fallen”. It is unclear why.
However, this does provide evidence to how Chinese athletes face huge pressure to get results at the Olympics, with medal counts long touted by the Chinese government as a sign of national strength. In the past, many have faced a backlash for poor performances.
Zhu is among at least a dozen foreign-born athletes recruited by China in recent years in an attempt to bolster its medal count at the Winter Olympics.
The recent attacks against her athletic performance also highlights the pressure these naturalized athletes face to compete under the Chinese flag.