The Rio Olympics may have found its breakout star, but not solely based on athletic performance. Chinese backstroke swimmer Fu Yuanhui has become Rio 2016’s resident comic.
Yuanhui has delivered a world class performance in the pool, finishing with a bronze medal in the 100-metre backstroke – tied with Canada’s Kylie Masse, but it’s been her post-race reactions that have shot her to social media fame.
After qualifying for the 100-metre finals with a third place finish, she excitedly told a reporter “I used my primordial powers!” After winning the bronze on Monday, unaware of the medal standings, a reporter filled her in on where she finished. Her reactions quickly went viral.
When the same reporter told her she finished one-hundreth of a second behind the silver medalist, she deadpanned it was because “her arms were too short.”
Displaying rare unbridled enthusiasm, Yuanhui’s expressions — some with mouth agape, others bursting with joy, have stood in stark contrast with the oftentimes solemn and withheld reactions of other athletes.
Her recent fame has also led to the discovery of other hilarious moments from her past events, the most notable example probably coming from the world championships in Barcelona last year.
Standing poolside while waiting for an interview, Yuanhui adjusts her bathing suit, unintentionally snapping it back. Grimacing with pain, her reaction captured a rare moment of a world class athlete showing the all-too-human trait of clumsiness.
Although Yuanhui’s animated presence has been a welcome dose of comedy to Olympic audiences worldwide, in China her popularity is turning her into a full-fledged star.
A recent 60-minute livestream answering questions on a popular app in China attracted over 10 million viewers. Her Weibo account, the Chinese version of Facebook, shot up from around 100,000 followers to over three million in a matter of days.
Yuanhui will return to the spotlight Saturday when she swims with China in the 4×100-metre relay. China’s relay team is considered a strong medal contender, and won the same event at the world championships last year.
If her mugging for the cameras on the podium at that tournament are any indication, who knows what we can expect from Rio 2016’s resident comedienne if they land in a similar spot.