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With a total of 416 athletes, China sent in their largest Olympic contingent to Rio this year with hopes of exceeding past successes in the international sporting event. But despite the country’s high expectations, the Chinese squad did not bring home as much gold medals as many predicted.
While placing third overall and racking up 26 Gold is by no means a terrible finish, this year’s medal haul gave China its smallest hoard of Olympic gold in two decades, falling short of its projected 30 to 35 golds.
Now Chinese officials and state-run media have begun shifting their tone away from valuing Olympic gold and touting sporting dominance as a symbol of national strength above everything else.
According to The Global Times, the Chinese public is “unfazed by sluggish medal winning” in Rio, then further stated that Chinese athletes had been “relieved of unfair expectations” since the country no longer had so much to prove.
The news outlet pointed out that this is because China no longer needs to work so hard to get rid of the “humiliating label of the ‘sick man’ of Asia” having proven its capacity to achieve not just sporting success, but also its status as a diplomatic and economic power in the world.
Ironically however, criticisms toward athletes and voices of discontent can still be heard from Chinese media.
State-owned news agency Xinhua earlier tweeted that after Britain climbed to number two in the gold medal tally: “You kidding me? The country which has never finished above China is about to …” The tweet was soon deleted.
Gymnastics, a category expected to be dominated by China, became a major disappointment for the country after it failed to win a single gold. Xinhua’s reaction reflected this via a tweet: “No gold for #CHN gymnasts #TeamChina have suffered the worst Olympic flop at #Rio2016”.
According to Xinhua’s Olympic operation director Cao Jianjie, several sports where China has traditionally been known to be a powerhouse, have also failed to meet expectations. This list includes badminton, shooting and weightlifting.
He reiterated though that the focus is no longer to get the most gold, but to encourage mass participation of the Chinese in sports.
“It used to be called the Olympic Glory program, but not any longer,” Cao said. “We have expected this before we came to Rio because the government does not have such an obsession with gold medals and now wants more people involved in sport.”
Such attitude is reflected in people’s reaction to Chinese swimmer Fu Yuanhui, who won tons of support back home despite not winning gold. Her positive response to winning a bronze medal has touched the hearts of international Olympic fans as well.
“Unlike their predecessors at past Olympics, less-than-perfect Chinese athletes at the Rio Games are neither shedding tears nor apologizing for letting the country down,” wrote Caixin Media’s editor-in-chief Hu Shuli.
“It’s a whole new ball game: China has replaced a form of gold-medal worship with true appreciation for athletic endeavors and achievement.”