New gen­er­a­tion of stars emerg­ing

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By SUN XIAOCHEN in Rio de Janeiro sunx­i­aochen@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Boast­ing elite per­for­mances and strong per­son­al­i­ties, China’s new breed of Olympians has emerged from the shadow of the na­tion’s se­nior sports celebri­ties to im­press the world at the Olympics.

As the com­pe­ti­tion in Rio de Janeiro heats up, a group of Chi­nese ath­letes, in­clud­ing swim­mers Sun Yang and Fu Yuan­hui, are gain­ing global at­ten­tion — and not only for their ath­letic prow­ess. Their col­or­ful in­di­vid­u­al­ity, break­ing the stereo­type of China’s im­pas­sively silent sports he­roes of the past, also is in the spot­light.

Af­ter the men’s 400m freestyle fi­nal on Satur­day, an ear­lier feud be­tween win­ner Mack Hor­ton of Aus­tralia and Sun es­ca­lated, with Hor­ton us­ing the term “drug cheat” while men­tion­ing Sun at the post-fi­nal news con­fer­ence. The re­mark prompted out­rage among Chi­nese fans.

In March 2014, Sun tested pos­i­tive for the banned sub­stance trimetazi­dine, which was in med­i­ca­tion he had taken for a heart con­di­tion. He was sus­pended for three months af­ter prov­ing to the China Anti-Dop­ing Agency at a hear­ing that the sub­stance was used only for med­i­cal pur­poses.

Sun did not fire back with words, but de­liv­ered a ri­poste on Mon­day by win­ning the men’s 200m freestyle to claim the first gold medal for Chi­nese swim­ming at the Rio Olympics.

“I just want to prove that the Asians can also chal­lenge and up­set the Western­ers in their strong events. I just want to stand up high for Asian swim­ming,” he said.

Fol­low­ing his re­marks, swim­mer Fu’s com­i­cal com­ments and ex­ag­ger­ated fa­cial ex­pres­sions dur­ing a pool­side in­ter­view be­fore the 100m back­stroke fi­nal vaulted her into the lime­light as well.

Her re­marks, such as us­ing “pre­his­toric pow­ers”, cou­pled with hi­lar­i­ous fa­cial ex­pres­sions, went vi­ral on­line. The num­ber of fol­low­ers on her mi­cro blog in­creased from fewer than 50,000 to 4.5 mil­lion.

“It’s too ter­ri­ble to watch (the in­ter­view). I didn’t ex­pect so many would like me. Their taste must be hard­core,” Fu, who even­tu­ally won a bronze medal in the 100m back­stroke, said later.

Such im­pres­sive per­for­mances in and out of the pool are fill­ing the void of in­ter­na­tional ex­po­sure left by such se­nior Chi­nese sports stars as for­mer NBA All-Star Yao Ming, cham­pion hur­dler Liu Xiang and ten­nis Grand Slam win­ner Li Na. How­ever, the younger gen­er­a­tion still needs more ex­pe­ri­ence be­yond the ath­letic arena be­fore join­ing the elite group, said ob­servers.

“Since the re­tire­ment of Yao, Liu and Li, China cov­ets new sports he­roes with in­ter­na­tional in­flu­ence,” said Li Shengxin, a sports man­age­ment ex­pert at Bei­jing Sport Uni­ver­sity.

“The Olympics has of­fered a mar­quee stage, but it seems the young stars haven’t been fully pre­pared to take the ba­ton. The lack of com­pe­tence in fame man­age­ment and PR skills, as well as in­con­sis­tent ath­letic per­for­mances, is tak­ing its toll on their star­dom,” Li said.

Li’s sen­ti­ment was il­lus­trated by the dis­ap­point­ing Rio cam­paign of Chi­nese swim­ming sen­sa­tion Ning Ze­tao, who failed to qual­ify for the fi­nal in his strong event, the men’s 100m freestyle, on Tues­day.

Since win­ning the 100m freestyle gold medal at the World Swim­ming Cham­pi­onships in Rus­sia last year, Ning has be­come a house­hold name for his ath­letic achieve­ment, hand­some looks and six-pack physique.

How­ever, his new­found fame brought trou­ble af­ter he signed with a spon­sor that is a ri­val of the na­tional team’s dairy provider, ac­cord­ing to re­ports in Chi­nese me­dia.

4.5 mil­lion fol­low­ers of Fu Yuan­hui’s blog

200 me­ters Sun Yang’s gold-win­ning event

REUTERS, XINHUA

China’s Sun Yang (above, right) cap­tured a gold medal in the men’s 200m freestyle swim­ming com­pe­ti­tion on Mon­day. Fu Yuan­hui won a bronze medal in the women’s 100m back­stroke (cen­ter) at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on Mon­day. Ning Ze­tao (top) wasn’t as lucky and failed to qual­ify for the fi­nals in the men’s 100m freestyle on Tues­day. All three ath­letes have be­come known in China for their per­son­al­i­ties as much as their ac­com­plish­ments.

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