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For the past two days, social media users in China have been scorning Beverly Zhu, a 19-year-old figure skater born and raised in the United States but competing for China under the name Zhu Yi.
The criticism began on Sunday, when the naturalized athlete crashed during the women’s singles short program in the team event.
That afternoon, the hashtag #ZhuYiFellDown had been viewed more than 200 million times on Weibo, a popular Chinese social media platform. Commentators called her “brazen”, “rotten” and “embarrassing”.
In an unusual move, Weibo stepped in on Sunday night to ban the hashtag. He did not provide a reason, citing only “relevant guidelines and policies.”
“I’m upset and a bit embarrassed,” Zhu said in tears after the competition, according to Reuters. “I guess I felt a lot of pressure because I know everyone in China was quite surprised by the selection for the ladies’ singles, and I really wanted to show them what I was capable of, but unfortunately I did not do it.”
Searches for Zhu’s name remained visible. Furor erupted again on Monday, after tripping twice during his free skating event. Zhu, who burst into tears during the program, finished last.
“Don’t cry, I want to cry,” wrote one commenter online.
Chinese athletes face enormous pressure to win medals and bring glory to the country. Zhu’s criticism showed how naturalized athletes were sometimes subjected to even harsher scrutiny.
Prior to the 2022 Games, Zhu had been attacked for her apparent inability to speak fluent Chinese. The uproar contrasts with international attention on Eileen Gu, the star skier who was born and raised in California but also competes for China, and is widely favored to be a gold medal contender.
Some social media users have suggested, without evidence, that Zhu earned a spot on the Chinese Olympic team due to the prominence of his father, Song-Chun Zhu, a computer scientist who moved to Peking University the United States.
Its unstable performance has also won sympathy from some users. Even Hu Xijin, a recently retired editor of the Global Times, a brash nationalist Chinese newspaper, criticized Zhu’s mockery.
“To vent your feelings about this young athlete, using social media to throw rocks down a well when she makes mistakes – that’s cyberbullying, and either way, it’s going too far.” Hu wrote in a comment which has been widely shared online.
Chen Lu, a former Chinese figure skater who won bronze medals at two Olympics in the 1990s, said Zhu’s mistakes reflected the pressure of performing at a world event in front of Chinese audiences.
“For Zhu Yi, the biggest challenge is the lack of experience in big competitions,” Chen said, according to Sohu, a Chinese news site. “She’s never had that competition experience in front of her house, and the pressure is huge.”
Zhu is scheduled to compete in the women’s singles skating program again next week.