Chinese athletes who grabbed gold in Rio this summer were awarded 200,000 yuan (about $30,000), a 60 percent drop from the previous Olympics held in London four years ago, according to a commentary published Wednesday in The Beijing News.
China hasn’t been as successful at the 2016 Summer Olympics as was perhaps expected, ranking third on the medal table behind the U.S. and Great Britain with 17 gold medals at the time of publication and five days of competition left. On their home turf at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, China won 51 golds, and four years later brought home 38 golds from London.
Some have expressed disbelief with this year’s so-far-disappointing haul. Referring to China’s place behind Great Britain on the medal table, a Twitter account of the state-owned Xinhua news agency tweeted Tuesday, “You kidding me? The country which has never finished above China is about to…” The message has since been deleted.
The author of Wednesday’s Beijing News commentary, Zhang Debin, explains China’s fall in the standings by pointing to the lower win bonuses, seeing this as a sign that the country no longer seeks wins above all else. “The reduction of the Olympic bonuses is a signal of a change in sports strategy, signifying that the ‘going for gold’ way of thinking is changing,” Zhang wrote.
Zhang further argues that the money saved on giving bonuses to gold medal Olympians can be used to get the rest of China in better shape. More than four-fifths of adult Chinese don’t work out, and obesity numbers are on the rise.
Others have also pointed out that a lesser focus on winning has allowed the human side of China’s athletes to be on display more than ever in Rio. On Sunday, Olympic diver Qin Kai proposed to his girlfriend, fellow diver He Zi, right after she had won the silver medal in the women’s three-meter springboard event. The video of Qin going down on one knee for all the world to see went viral both in China and abroad.
One of China’s most popular Olympians has been Ning Zetao, who, probably due in no small part to his handsome looks and perfectly sculpted body, received a warm welcome at the Beijing airport on Tuesday despite returning home medal-less.
But the athlete who warmed everyone’s hearts has been Fu Yuanhui, also a swimmer. Winner of “just” a bronze medal, she grabbed headlines with her spontaneous and endearing interviews. One of her responses perhaps best describes China’s renewed approach to Olympic success. When asked after her third-place finish in the 100-meter backstroke preliminaries if she had high expectations for the finals, Yu said, “No, I’m already very satisfied.”
(Header image: Gold medalist Ding Ning poses biting her medal during the Rio Olympics, Brazil, Aug. 10, 2016. Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters)