China’s US-born figure skater Zhu Yi said that online abuse heaped upon her after she fell during her Olympics debut affected her performance, a rare acknowledgement of the negative impact of nationalistic fervour on athletes.
Zhu told the official Xinhua News Agency Monday that she felt pressure after reading disparaging comments on Chinese social media. “I wanted to prove myself, because I didn’t do so well yesterday, and what everyone said on the Internet really affected me,” she said. “I have trained very hard. The problem now is psychological. I will try not to be affected by the outside world.”
Nationalistic voices have become louder on Chinese social media in recent years amid President Xi Jinping’s mantra of “national rejuvenation”, and particularly as relations with Western countries sour. Athletes that naturalise to compete for the Chinese team are under even greater scrutiny as the public are more likely to highlight their dual national identities, particularly in moments of under-performance.
Zhu’s performance during the women’s free-skate team event on Feb 7, in which she fell for a second day, was denounced as a “disgrace” by users on the Twitter-like Weibo platform, who questioned why the 19-year-old was selected over a Chinese-born athlete. The hashtags “Zhu Yi’s consecutive mistakes” and “Zhu Yi tears up again on the ice” were trending, with some commenting that the games weren’t a platform for practice.
However, in a sign that authorities want to maintain positive messaging around the Olympics, censors stepped in to make the hashtag “Zhu Yi has fallen” unsearchable over the weekend when the skater fell twice on her Olympics debut and finished last in the women’s short programme team event. China finished fifth overall.
“There were some mistakes, but it has already passed. I hope I can adjust myself and compete well,” Zhu told state-run China News Service after her competition Monday. “I’ve been very moved and excited. Even during the programme, I was moved and wanted to cry. I couldn’t hold it back, so I cried. Of course, there were also regrets.”
The vitriol directed at Zhu stood in contrast to the response to Eileen Gu, the 18-year-old freestyle skier, who like Zhu was born and raised in the US but competes for China. Gu, who models for some of the world’s biggest brands and whose face can be seen all around China in advertisements, is in contention to win three gold medals in the Olympics.
On Feb 8, Gu clinched her first Olympic gold during the women’s freestyle skiing big air event, with Xinhua calling the win “historic”. Following the competition, over half of the top ten trending topics on Weibo were related to Gu’s performance. – Bloomberg