Chinese raise support for Japan skater Yuzuru Hanyu

Yuzuru Hanyu performing his free skate in the men's figure skating event at the Beijing Winter Olympics
The Japanese skater is a much-loved figure in China

Chinese netizens have rallied around Japanese figure skating star Yuzuru Hanyu after the two-time defending Olympic champion fell on his final skate, failing to reclaim his title.

The support for the star comes just two days after Chinese social media users savaged one of their own athletes. US-born Zhu Yi also fell twice in her routine at the Beijing Games. However, Hanyu has long been a crowd favourite in China, despite its political tensions with Japan.

On Thursday, Chinese social platform Weibo overflowed with messages of support for the 27-year-old after his failed attempts to reclaim his title. The hashtag #AmericanPlayerChenWeiGoldMedal was also trending, reflecting US skater Nathan Chen’s victory. Many applauded the 22-year-old’s win, which included a world-record short programme.

But some also criticized Chen, saying he had “insulted China” with previous comments about alleged human rights abuses in the country. Athletes who have Chinese heritage or who represent Team China but were born overseas have gained particular attention during these Winter Games in Beijing, often fuelled by ultra-nationalist commentators online. Figure skater Zhu Yi, 19, who gave up her US citizenship to join Team China, came under attack earlier this week for being picked for the Chinese team event over locally-born skaters.

In contrast, US-born freeskier Eileen Gu is widely adored in China and her gold medal win for Team China on Tuesday overwhelmed Weibo. However on Thursday, conversations about skating idol Hanyu dominated the Twitter-like Weibo site. The top hashtag #YuzuruHanyuFalls had more than 300 million views. Many users praised his attempt to land a world-first quad axel in his free skate routine -after a poor result in his earlier short programme necessitated a drastic element to get back into the medal stakes.

Hanyu, however, crashed on to his backside in attempting the daring jump, and stumbled again later on in his routine. But, in contrast to the criticism aimed at Zhu on Monday, nearly all of the comments for Hanyu from netizens were positive and encouraging. “Win or lose it doesn’t matter, the Olympics are about trying to break through your own boundaries,” one user wrote. Another said: “No matter or not you are a champion – you’re still an ice skating miracle. Every performance is his best.”

The Japanese skater is widely admired for his expressive, romantic style. His popularity in China appears to transcend political tensions between the two nations. One Weibo user wrote: “Some of Japan’s past and current behaviour is disgusting, but Hanyu is not like that…. he is great.” Even Chinese foreign ministry representatives have published encouraging messages for the Japanese skater ahead of the Olympics.

In October, a spokeswoman tweeted a message in Japanese, telling Hanyu’s homeland fans they could count on Chinese citizens cheering for him at the Games.

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