Chinese Athlete Tearfully Apologizes for Winning Silver in Table Tennis

Japan’s victory in a sport long dominated by China has prompted nationalistic anger.
July 27, 2021, 8:15am
Tokyo olympics gold table tennis
The Chinese table tennis team had set the goal of bagging all five gold medals at the Tokyo Olympics. Photo: JUNG Yeon-je / AFP

For China’s table tennis team, an Olympic silver is just too bad. 

Chinese athletes have apologized for upsetting the nation after losing the country’s first Olympic gold medal in table tennis in 17 years.

The Chinese pair Xu Xin and Liu Shiwen were defeated by their Japanese opponents, Jun Mizutani and Mima Ito, in the mixed doubles match on Monday, the first time a country other than China bagged an Olympic table tennis gold since 2004.

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The surprising loss has saddened many sports fans in China. The Chinese government has made massive investments to prepare athletes, most of them state employees, for international competitions. And their success is seen as an indicator of national strength. 

In categories long dominated by China, such as table tennis and diving, athletes are expected to bag all gold medals. Even silvers would come as major disappointments.  

“I kind of failed our team,” Liu, the 30-year-old female athlete, broke down in tears when speaking to state broadcaster CCTV after the match. “I’m sorry, everyone.” 

The silver medalists kept straight faces and apologized again at a press conference later. 

“We did not make it a good ending for ourselves,” said Xu, the 31-year-old male player. “The whole country was looking forward to this final… I think the entire Chinese team cannot accept this result.” 

It does not help ease the pain that the duo were defeated by Japan. Many Chinese hold a grudge against the neighboring country due to the Japanese invasion of China in 1937. 

Japan’s victory over China prompted nationalistic anger, with some accusing the Japanese athletes of touching the table and blowing air on the ball, which were banned at the Tokyo Olympics to minimize COVID-19 contagion risks. 

Japanese actor Yuki Furukawa came under intense attack for posting the message “you watching the olympic[s]?” on Chinese social site Weibo following the match. Internet users accused him of mocking China. 

Furukawa hit back by calling the criticism “rude and sad.” But he later deleted both posts and apologized. “really didnt mean for all this,” he wrote. “i asked at the wrong timing. should have been more careful of my words.”

The top voted comments include a picture of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and a photo of the actor’s pictures being torn up. 

Chinese internet users, celebrities, and state media have sought to comfort the Chinese table tennis duo for winning silver. 

“As long as you have fought, you are the strong ones,” the Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily said in an online post about the match.