In the early days of the games, Chinese media sought to play down the athletes’ relatively poor showing, instead praising their competitive spirit and arguing that medals were not “the be-all and end-all of the Olympics”.
But by yesterday even the official Xinhua news service could not help showing a little annoyance.
“Even #GBR has one more gold than China,” it wrote on a verified Twitter feed, snapping that China’s gymnasts had “suffered the worst Olympic flop” after failing to win any golds.
It was even blunter a day earlier in a post showing Britain leading the world’s most populous country in golds with the comment: “You kidding me? The country which has never finished above China is about to...”
That post was rapidly deleted.
But in a report on the gymnastics results it lamented that the “traditional powerhouse” only took two bronzes in the team events, adding it was the first Olympics where China had failed to win an individual gymnastics medal.
The nationalistic state-run newspaper Global Times – which has previously dismissed Britain as an “old declining empire” whose “national strength cannot be placed in the same rank as China now” – tried to keep spirits up yesterday with an article headlined “Happy Without Gold: Chinese public unfazed by sluggish medal winning”.
But the mood online was less upbeat.
Some fans complained the Team China athletes owed taxpayers a better return for the money invested in their training, and criticised the efforts of failed medallists who said they were simply happy to compete in Rio.
“The athletic skills every athlete possess are half owned by the state,” wrote one user on the WeChat messaging service cited by the Global Times.
On China’s Twitter-like Weibo microblog service hundreds of commenters debated an article that claimed to reveal “The Secret Behind Britain’s China-beating Gold Medals”, which it attributed to an ambitious national plan – implicitly defending China’s system of sports academies.
One user commented: “Though I’m not in favour of gold medal-ism, not even being in second place is still a bit sore.”
Other comments online were less polite. Some blasted Chinese athletes for blaming their lack of success on poor refereeing, while others were furious at China’s failure to keep up with Britain, which has a fraction of its population.
“Screw you (China), not only have you fallen behind in gold, but you’re actually soon about to lose the medal count to an EU-quitting kingdom” wrote one, adding: “The General Administration of Sports should commit harakiri and apologise.”