Democracy Dies in Darkness

Early Lead

This Chinese swimmer’s reaction to finding out she medaled deserves a medal itself

By Marissa Payne

August 11, 2016 at 10:27 AM

Fu Yuanhui of China poses with the bronze medal she won for the 100-meter backstroke. (David Gray/Reuters)

Fu Yuanhui woke up in Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday one of the most popular sports figures in China — and she didn’t even win a gold medal. The Chinese swimmer instead took home a bronze medal in the women’s 100-meter backstroke on Monday night, but it was Fu’s reaction to her win that helped make her a viral sensation. Fu only found out she placed third to win a medal while talking to a Chinese reporter after the getting out of the pool.

“What I want to share, even though I did not win a medal,” the 20-year-old began to say on China’s state-run network Tuesday night before being interrupted by the reporter.

“But you got a medal. You are third,” the reporter said.

Related: Dominance of Michael Phelps has crushed the Olympic dreams of these 27 swimmers

“What? Third?!” Fu stammered. “I did not know…”

Before finding out she won, Fu blamed her “short arms” for not placing higher and said she used all her “mystical power,” as she mentioned in another viral interview this week, in the semifinals to justify what she thought was not that stellar of a performance.

After realizing she won, however, her tune changed.

“Well, then I think that’s not bad at all!” she said.

It’s not just her words that have have made Fu one of the Olympics’ standout stars, it’s also her facial expressions, which have spurred memes, emojis and other online activity in China and beyond.

This isn’t Fu’s first Olympics. At age 16, she swam the 100-meter backstroke at the London Games in 2012, but she failed to make the final. In the four years since, Fu not only grew more comfortable in the pool, but also with being herself in front of the camera.

On Wednesday, she gave her newfound fans a special treat, signing onto Weibo, a popular Chinese social media site, where she live-streamed herself eating a breakfast of cupcakes from Rio.

Related: When did gymnastics leotards get so dang sparkly? The history of an Olympic outfit.

“Hi everyone!” she said to the camera (via Quartz) around 9 a.m. local time. “I’m still a bit sleepy.”

Fu chatted with fans for 60 minutes while munching on cupcakes and occasionally burping. But when some the roughly 10 million fans started sending her virtual gifts through the site that cost them very real money, Fu got serious — or maybe as serious as Fu gets. According to Quartz, Fu instructed her fans to save their money “to buy snacks” or “save some kittens and puppies.”

Amidst a string of robberies of attendees, Ryan Lochte and three other swimmers also claimed they were robbed after a dance party at an Olympic venue. However, discrepancies have emerged in their accounts. Lochte said they were accosted by one robber, while another swimmer said there were several. (Michael Sohn/AP)
Michael John Conlan, left, of Ireland fights Vladimir Nikitin of Russia in a bantamweight quarterfinal. Conlans camp vociferously objected to the decision for Nikitin, and in the wake of several controversial matches including one involving Capitol Heights Gary Antuanne Russell the international governing body of the sport sent home several judges. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
NBCs Al Trautwig tweeted about U.S. gymnast Simone Biless adoptive parents: They may be mom and dad but they are NOT her parents. (Biless biological grandparents adopted and raised their granddaughters.) After public backlash and pressure from NBC, Trautwig apologized. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)
Russian swimmer Yulia Efimova, top, was cleared for competition despite two previous suspensions for using performance-enhancing drugs. In the finger wag seen round the world, U.S.s Lilly King, right, admonished Efimova from the ready room. She then bested Efimova in the 100-meter breaststroke to capture gold. Surprise, surprise: They did not congratulate each other. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)
It was a tale of two Olympic pools: on the left, familiar aqua waters for water polo; on the right, a stomach-turning green in the diving pool. An Olympics spokesman blamed the proliferation of algae on the dumping of hydrogen peroxide into the pool. This prevented chlorine from doing its job of killing organic matter. The problem seems to be clearing up. (Larry W. Smith/European Pressphoto Agency)
Shaunae Miller of the Bahamas turned the 400 meters into a diving competition at the finish line. The gamble paid off, and she took gold over Allyson Felix of the U.S. Though the move was controversial, it is legal and other professional runners have used the tactic before. (Matt Slocum/AP)
People are talking about Gabby Douglas, but not for the reasons she was hoping. People are criticizing her for her hair (once again), not placing her hand over her heart during the U.S. national anthem, and not joining in a standing ovation for her teammates. (Mike Blake/Reuters)
Rio welcomed controversy with open arms when an Opening Ceremonies dress rehearsal appeared to feature a skit in which supermodel Gisele was robbed by a black boy. The creative director of the show called it a tremendous misunderstanding. (Mike Blake/Reuters)
A live jaguar named Juma was serving as decoration for an Olympic torch event when it was shot and killed in June. After escaping from its handlers, it was tranquilized and then put down. We guarantee that there will be no more such incidents at Rio 2016, the local Olympics committee told Reuters. (JAIR ARAUJO/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)
Swallowing three teaspoons of the sewage-laced waters would result in a nearly 100% chance of falling ill, the AP cautioned last year. A Belgian sailor has reportedly developed dysentery from her contact with the water. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)
. . . And that was before human remains washed up on the shore of the beach volleyball venue at Copacabana Beach. Still, some athletes say the waters have improved. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)
After Hungarian Katinka Hosszus record-breaking 400-meter individual medley performance, NBCs Dan Hicks assigned credit to her coach and husband, instead of the swimmer herself. The man responsible, he said of Shane Tusup. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)
A frosty round of sniping between Chinas Sun Yang, right, and Australias Mack Horton, center, over doping has been a poolside distraction. I dont have time or respect for drug cheats, said Horton of Yang, who previously tested positive for a banned stimulant in 2014. Horton topped Yang in the 400-meter freestyle. (Matt Slocum/Associated Press)
NBC was criticized once again when commentator Chris Marlowe referred to the spouse of gay beach volleyball player Larissa Franca as her husband instead of wife. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)
Two people died after the collapse of a section of an elevated bike path, which was built for the Olympics, when it was struck by incoming waves. The structure was opened this year to connect incoming spectators to nearby smaller towns. (CHRISTOPHE SIMON/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)
In a supposed attempt to give an inside look at hookup culture among athletes, the Daily Beasts Nico Hines used hookup apps like Grindr, which caters to gay men. Hines described the athletes he matched with but omitted names, including one from a notoriously homophobic country. Many were outraged that he might have outed or even endangered people. Read more (iStock)
Um, are we watching a Sochi rerun? Construction problems plagued the Athletes Village, with the Australian team refusing to move in due to plumbing and electricity issues. Here, Chef de Mission Kitty Chiller speaks on the issue. (The Egyptian team also had no hot water and toilets that did not flush.) (Yasuyoshi Chiba/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)
The Olympics is set against a tumultuous political backdrop: a debilitating recession, the potential impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff, and protesters who have tried to douse the Olympic torch with water and fire extinguishers. (Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters)
And who could forget Zika, which led some athletes to withdraw from the Olympics. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention said the risk of being infected is very low but still advised pregnant women not to go to Brazil. Helping the matter is constant spraying for mosquitoes by city workers, and the fact that it is winter in the country. (Chris Helgren/Reuters)
Welcome to hell, Rio police greeted travelers at the international airport in June, Police and firefighters dont get paid. Whoever comes to Rio de Janeiro will not be safe. As preparation for the Olympics were underway, law enforcement had so little money that they had to beg for donations of pens and toilet paper, according to the AP. (VANDERLEI ALMEIDA/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)
Photo Gallery: Your complete guide to the many controversies of the Rio Olympics

Marissa Payne writes for The Early Lead, where she focuses on what she calls the “cultural anthropological” side of sports, a.k.a. “mostly the fun stuff.”

Post Recommends
Outbrain

You obviously love great journalism.

With special savings on our Basic Digital package, you’ll never miss a single story again.

Already a subscriber?

Secure & Encrypted