From China with love

In the spotlight: MacNeil (left) has a fair share of admirers when it was revealed she was born in China while Ni (below) was a former national player of China. — AFP/Reuters

THE Olympic Games is one of the most popular sporting events followed closely by the Chinese.

There is no shortage of support for Chinese athletes during the ongoing Tokyo 2020. They would cheer for their athletes and sing the national anthem proudly when a Chinese athlete is on the podium.

Sports commentators and journalists have forecast the Chinese team will return home with at least 31 gold medals.

At the halfway point, China has secured 19 golds including weightlifting, diving, shooting and swimming. More golds are expected from table tennis, artistic gymnastics and badminton.

However, some analysts felt that the country would not do better than the 2016 Rio Olympics of 26 golds based on the poor performance of several athletes or teams in the preliminary rounds.

China’s best performance was at the 2008 Beijing Olympics bagging 100 medals including 48 golds.

This year, China has sent a big delegation of 777 people including 431 athletes to compete in 30 categories.

Some people have speculated that the participants number “777” was not decided by chance.

“We have grown stronger and we will never forget July 7, 1937,” wrote some bloggers, who claimed that it was a way of China showcasing its strength to the host country.

On that day, a conflict between the Chinese and the Japanese army took place at the Lugou Bridge, also known as the Marco Polo Bridge just outside Beijing, which soon developed into the eight-year Sino-Japanese war and Nanjing Massacre.

It is not just the performance of athletes that caught the eyes of the Chinese. They also started digging up the background of foreign athletes with links to China, those with good looks and what they deemed as “funny” reactions or after match comments from the coaches.

Hashtag #Perfect faces at the Olympics was created on Sina Weibo, Chinese microblogging site similar to Twitter, for netizens to pose and discuss the athletes they felt are good looking.

Malaysian gymnast Farah Ann Abdul Hadi and swimmer Welson Sim made it to the list.

Apart from Chinese sportsmen, Canadian swimmer Margaret MacNeil has a fair share of admirers when it was revealed she was born in China.

After she won the women’s 100m butterfly category last Monday, viewers were surprised to see a “Chinese face” and did a background search on the 21-year-old.

It was reported that MacNeil was abandoned at birth at a hospital in Jiujiang city of China’s eastern Jiangxi province.

A year later, she was taken to Canada by her adoptive parents, who also took in a younger Chinese orphan girl.

The MacNeils moved in to a house with swimming pool and that was when the Olympic medallist developed her talent.

As her daily routine before entering the national team, MacNeil starts here day at 5am, joins her father for coffee before he accompanies her to the aquatic centre for training while her mother took charge of her diet.

She participated in her first swimming competition at 12 but her road to success has had its own challenges.

In 2017, doctors told her she has asthma as she was facing breathing difficulties while competing at the Fina World Championships in Singapore, forcing her to later drop the usual 200m category to 100m.

Not giving up, MacNeil trained harder to defeat the then world record holder Sarah Sjoestroem from Sweden to win the 100m butterfly category at the 2019 Fina World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea.

When her story came to light, netizens thanked her parents for their kindness in adopting the girl, taking good care of her and gaving her a new life.

Some have volunteered to help MacNeil search for her biological parents if she wished to.

Another “foreign” athlete who was much discussed by netizens was 58-year-old ping pong player Ni Xia Lian, who represented Luxembourg.

Ni was a former national player of China and won several gold medals at major events but never took take part in the Olympics.

After retiring from the national team at 23, she went to Europe and later migrated to Luxembourg, where she realised her Olympics dream by representing her adopted country in five games.

In an unusual scenario, the Chinese were cheering for her when she played against South Korean Shin Yubin, 17, on July 25.

Her fighting spirit and sportsmanship received all round support.

With an age gap of 41 years between the two players, they did not put any expectation on Ni but she gallantly fought for 66-minute to lose 3-4 to Shin.

Although she lost, Ni was happy for Shin whom she commended as “a good player with great potentials”.

In an interview, she told the Chinese media that she would continue promoting sports as long as her health permitted her to do so.

“I will not force myself, I just try my best to do what I could, at this age,” she added.

Asked if she planned to compete again in the next Olympics, she replied that she is unsure for now.

“Let’s see. The problem is that there are not many European players.

“They need me and persuaded me to compete and I told myself ‘let’s help them’. I’m happy to contribute my knowledge and strength,” she said.

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