Events progress under shadow of COVID-19
By Cui Fandi, Lu Wenao in Beijing and Zhou Yang in Tokyo
Team China started powerfully at the Tokyo Olympic Games. Chinese athletes have secured eleven medals in the first two days of the Tokyo Olympics, including six gold medals, putting China at the top of the medal table and the gold count at the end of Day Two. Four of the six gold medals of Chinese team so far were won by female athletes.
Housing the smallest number of spectators for an Olympics, Tokyo 2020 has been dubbed one of the coldest Olympics ever. However, Chinese fans are making it the hottest topic on the Chinese internet, and cheering for China’s medal success is just a small part of it as netizens now appreciate more the human touch side of the Olympic Games.
Continuing the good momentum of the first day when team China won three gold medals, on Sunday afternoon, the Chinese diving “dream team” delivered like they always do. Veterans Shi Tingmao and Wang Han claimed a gold medal in the 3 meter spring board, a fifth consecutive Olympic title for China. The duo led the race by a huge margin from the very start.
The fifth gold soon followed as weightlifter Li Fabin set a new Olympic record on his way to clinching gold in the weightlifting men’s 61 kilogram. On his second attempt, his clean and jerk lift of 172kilogram – also an Olympic record – saw the 28-year-old standing with the bar above his head while standing on one leg.
Chen Lijun retained the men’s 67 kilogram total gold medal with 332 kilograms, registering the sixth gold for Team China on Sunday evening.
Team China made a good start on the first day of the competition. 21-year-old shooter Yang Qian on Saturday morning claimed the first gold medal of the Tokyo Olympics in the women’s 10 meter air rifle with a record-breaking 251.8 points. Yang won over the Chinese public with her cuteness when she showed off her delicate pink finger nails and made a giant heart sign with her arms on the podium.
Later on Saturday afternoon, Hou Zhihui won a gold medal in the women’s 49 kilogram-class weightlifting, winning the second gold for the Chinese delegation. Hou broke three Olympic records in the final, making up for missing the Rio Olympics at the last minute five years ago.
Also on the first day, épée fencer Sun Yiwen edged out world No. 1 Ana Maria Popescu of Romania in a nail-biter to win a third gold for Team China.
More than medal
There are some things that are much more important than winning an Olympic medal, Chinese netizens have been telling their athletes in the past few days.
In the same event in which Yang Qian won the first gold medal for Team China, Yang’s teammate, shooter Wang Luyao, went out in the preliminaries. After the contest, Wang posted a selfie on China’s Twitter-like social platform Sina Weibo and said that she had “chickened out.”
Wang was then fiercely attacked by some netizens, who said that “this is not a reasonable attitude to take when you lose.” Some even said that Wang “does not deserve to represent her country.” Wang later deleted the post.
Responding to extreme emotional outbursts of netizens, more of the public immediately voiced strong support for Wang. They flooded Wang’s Sina Weibo account to express their love and backing for her, while condemning online violence. The hashtag “Wang Luyao is still an amazing girl” quickly rose to the top of Sina Weibo’s trending list and remained there for a long time.
A total of 65 Weibo accounts have been muted from 90 to 180 days for maliciously attacking Olympic athletes as of Sunday.
Several Chinese media outlets also published articles expressing their support for Wang. “Every Chinese athlete deserves our pride,” wrote the Beijing Evening News.
As China’s national strength continues to grow, the country has long passed the era where the attitude of “Only the championship counts” prevailed. Now people appreciate more the spirit of participation, fight till the end and perform your best.
Both China’s athletes and spectators have been gaining a greater appreciation for what the Olympics embodies – the Olympic spirit, the intergenerational legacy of athletes, the toughness of veterans and the sharpness of newcomers, and even the stories behind the Games’ losers.
On Sunday afternoon, China’s women’s volleyball team, a traditional favorite to win medal, suffered a crushing 0-3 loss to Turkey in its Olympic debut match. On the Chinese women’s volleyball team’s social media, while some fans complained about their performance, many expressed their belief in the athletes and their concerns over the injury suffered by main player Zhu Ting in their messages.
Many fans of women’s volleyball also recalled the Rio Olympics five years ago, when the Chinese women’s volleyball team won two and lost three matches in the group stage in a shock fourth group result, but eventually went on to win the title in a legendary finale. “I hope the girls can bounce back again,” wrote one netizen on Sina Weibo, “but even if they don’t, I’ll still be proud.”
Chinese viewers are paying more attention to the stories behind the athletes rather than just the wins and losses.
Netizens lauded Jiang Ranxin and Sheng Lihao, the two athletes who were born after year 2000 and won medals in shooting events, as “the hope of the future.” Netizens also marveled at the mentality of 36-year-old Pang Wei, who is competing in the Olympics for the fourth time, and 30-year-old Wang Han, who is making her Olympic debut. Netizens have also been following Olympic stories from distant lands – such as the 41-year-old Iranian night nurse who won a gold medal.
Shadow of COVID-19
The host city of Tokyo reported 1,763 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday, as Japan struggles to contain a new wave of infections amid the Olympics, marking the sixth straight day of over 1,000 cases. Daily new infections in the capital averaged 1,453.6 in the week to Sunday, compared with 1,068.3 the previous week.
On Sunday, the first COVID-19 infection of an Olympics athlete was confirmed, local media outlet Kyodo News reported on Sunday afternoon. Dutch rower Finn Florijn tested positive for COVID-19 after competing on Friday, but rowing events on Sunday were held as scheduled.
The committee reported a total of 10 new infections related to the Olympics on Sunday, including another athlete from overseas, bringing the total since the beginning of this month to 132.
The Global Times reporter noted in the Olympic venues in the mix zone that the Organizing Committee has been fairly strict in managing epidemic prevention among athletes and media personnel during and after events. For example, the distance between each press member is set at 1 meter, and distance between players is set at 2 meters. There is also a no standing zone to help maintain distance between press members and competitors.
However, the GT reporter also noted that from time to time, some press members ignored these measures, such as standards of mask wearing or social distance requirements. Previous media reports have also pointed out the possibility of media personnel coming into contact with Tokyo citizens.
Based on the current lax manner in the way some Olympic event personnel and venues are implementing epidemic prevention measures, there may be an increase in Olympic-related cases in the future, observers noted. If it leads to more athletes becoming infected, more game rescheduling may also be possible.