American-born figure skater Zhu Yi fell several times and failed to land a jump during her Olympic debut for Team China, sparking backlash on Chinese social media.
The 19-year-old, who renounced her U.S. citizenship to compete for China, fell and crashed into a wall during the women’s short program team event on Sunday. Zhu then missed a jump in her routine and finished with the lowest score of the event, knocking China down from third to to fifth place.
The hashtag “Zhu Yi has fallen” quickly became a top trending topic Sunday night on China’s social media platform Weibo before it was later seemingly censored, according to the South China Morning Post.
It was a swift turnabout for Zhu, who was cheered minutes earlier when she skated onto the ice at Beijing’s Capital Indoor Stadium for her Olympic debut.
On Monday, Zhu fell two more times in the women’s free skate, the final event in the team competition. Again, her name trended on Weibo, with the topic hashtag “Zhu Yi’s Winter Olympics debut is not perfect” gaining more than 33 million views within a few hours on Monday, Insider reported.
“I’m upset and a little embarrassed,” Zhu said after her performance Sunday, as she wiped away tears. “I guess I felt a lot of pressure because I know everybody in China was pretty surprised with the selection for ladies’ singles and I just really wanted to show them what I was able to do but unfortunately I didn’t.”
Many users also complained that the American-born skater had been given a spot on Team China over someone who is native born to compete in the Beijing Winter Olympics. Zhu has also faced criticism for not being able to speak fluent Chinese.
“She should just go back to her old home, her father can remain,” a Weibo user commented on a thread calling for her to return to the US.
Zhu was born in Los Angeles, California, and renounced her U.S. citizenship in 2018 to compete at the Olympics for China, which doesn’t allow dual citizenship. Her father is a renowned computer scientist specializing in artificial intelligence and previously taught at the University of California, Los Angeles, before transferring to Peking University in Beijing.
Zhu is one of several foreign-born athletes competing for China at the 2022 Winter Games.
Freestyle skier Eileen Gu was born in San Francisco to a Chinese mother and American father. She announced on her Instagram in 2019 that she would be competing for China in the 2022 Winter Games. She told Forbes last year that the decision was based partly on her desire to become the “freeskiing idol for young Chinese girls that Americans and Canadians were to her growing up.”
However, Gu’s popularity in China is a stark contrast to that of Zhu. The 18-year-old speaks fluent Mandarin and charmed the Chinese public with her accent-free language skills. She is affectionately called the “snow princess” in headlines and her face is splashed around China on billboards and magazine covers.
China’s men’s hockey roster features 18 players who were born in or grew up in North America — including seven from the United States — and one Russian, The Associated Press reported.
It’s common for foreign-born athletes to be recruited by countries looking to bolster their medal count. And in some cases, would-be Olympians choose to switch citizenship to a country where they have a better shot to qualify for the Olympics.
Still, Zhu’s disappointing showing at the Olympics serves as a reminder of the tightrope foreign athletes must walk and the unique pressures they face to perform well.