Members of China’s delegation pose for photos at the Maracana Stadium during the closing ceremony of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Aug 21, 2016. [Photo/Xinhua]
RIO DE JANEIRO — It was one of the most moving moments of the Rio Olympics and it didn’t have anything to do with sporting achievement.
He Zi had just received her Olympic silver medal in the women’s 3m springboard final when fellow Chinese diver, Qin Kai, appeared in front of the podium.
The crowd looked on in disbelief as Qin kneeled down to present her with a ring and propose marriage.
Nobody was more surprised than He. Overcome with emotion and with tears streaming down her face, she paused, and said yes, as cheers rang around the Maria Lenk Aquatics Center.
“We have been dating now for over six years, and I didn’t know he would be doing this,” He said. “Qin said a lot of things, made a lot of promises, but I think the thing that touched me the most is I think this is the guy I can trust for the rest of my life.”
China’s Shi Tingmao, who was standing beside He as the 3m springboard gold medalist, expressed joy for her teammate.
“They have passed through a lot of things over the past few years, and this is the perfect moment for them to tie the knot,” Shi said. “I am very happy for both of them.”
Italy’s Tania Cagnotto was also on the podium, having won the bronze medal.
“Shi knew about the surprise before the medal ceremony and told me, so I was informed. It was very nice to see,” Cagnotto said.
The moment was emblematic of a new China that emerged during these Games; a China that has laid bare its emotions while placing greater emphasis on human spirit, respect and friendship than simply winning titles.
China claimed 26 gold medals here, down from 38 in London four years ago and 51 at the Beijing 2008 Games.
But Gao Zhidan, a vice president of the Chinese Olympic Committee, said the country considered the Rio Games an unqualified success.
“Chinese athletes came here to show their fighting spirit, be a bridge of friendship and show the best side of the Chinese people,” Gao said.
“People will remember these Games for more than just what has happened on the sporting arena. Chinese athletes have been responsible for several moments of heart-warming humanity. And they have expressed their emotions in a way that they might not have previously done, endearing them to other athletes and fans.”
One of the enduring images of these Games will be that of Chen Long crying like a baby in the arms of his coach, Xia Xuanze, after winning the badminton men’s singles title. Chen, who claimed the bronze medal in London four years ago, beat gold medal favorite Lee Chong Wei of Malaysia 21-18, 21-18 in the final.
Badminton also witnessed a moment of inspiring sportsmanship after Lee defeated China’s dual Olympic champion Lin Dan 15-21, 21-11, 22-20 in a gripping semifinal.
The pair put their rivalry aside by swapping shirts and embracing after their match, a gesture which drew loud applause from the stands.
Wu Jingyu, another two-time Olympic champion, summed up China’s new outlook after losing her 49kg taekwondo quarter-final to Serbia’s Tijana Bogdanovic.
“The mentality has been changed,” Wu said. “Winning and losing isn’t everything. Of course I will always try to do my best and my objective is to beat my opponent. But in China we no longer look at the number of medals to judge if an athlete is great or not.”
There was an uplifting tale of triumph over adversity for Ding Ning, who won gold medals in the singles and team table tennis events here.
The 26-year-old lost the final four years ago to compatriot Li Xiaoxia because the referee ruled her serves illegal at key moments of the match.
This time around, she overcame her Chinese colleague in a thrilling seven-set encounter. Later, she joined Li and Liu Shiwen to beat Germany in the team event.
She credited her coach, former Olympic and world champion Liu Guoliang, for helping to overcome her pre-game nerves.
“I was under great pressure but Liu told me just to forget the past,” Ding said. “I needed to take all of those negative thoughts out of my mind. The important thing was to present my best skills and competitive spirit. That advice was crucial and helped me when it mattered most.”
Nobody at these Games won the hearts of sports fans quite like swimmer Fu Yuanhui. The lovable 20-year-old claimed the bronze medal in the women’s 100m backstroke. However it was her candid interviews with journalists and theatrical facial expressions that made her a global internet sensation.
“That was my personal best!” she screamed during a television interview after her 100m backstroke semifinal.
“I was very sick at the beginning of the year. The devil knows what I went through. Honestly, when I was training in Australia, I might as well have been dead. But today’s result makes it all worthwhile. I’m very happy and content.”
The interview went viral on social media and Fu was subsequently inundated with interview requests, most of which she politely declined to concentrate on the rest of her Rio 2016 program.
BBC hailed Fu as one of the “priceless faces lighting up the Olympics,” along with U.S. megastar Michael Phelps.
Among the most satisfying victories for China was that of the women’s volleyball team. Guided by coach Lang Ping, herself a gold medalist at the 1984 Los Angeles Games, China recovered from a set down in the final to defeat Serbia 3-1.
Many of the players were in tears after the match, which delivered China their third women’s Olympic volleyball title.
“Lang has been an inspiration and an icon for Chinese sports,” said China’s deputy chef de mission, Cai Zhenhua.
“She is a master strategist whose bravery and tactical prowess was evident here. She commands respect and has a great ability to communicate with the players, always managing to bring out the best in them, both individually and as a team.”
China’s obsession with women’s volleyball dates back to the 1970s, when the national team first enjoyed success on the international stage.
Interest in the sport grew exponentially in the 1980s when Lang was at the peak of her career.
According to Cai, the coach’s influence was particularly strong in the semifinals when China beat the Netherlands, winning every set by just two points.
“That’s the kind of spirit that Chinese sports teams and the Chinese people need. She is an inspiration to everybody, not just in volleyball but in all walks of life,” Cai added.
The human spirit and goodwill shown by Chinese athletes in Rio cut a stark contrast to the questionable behavior of some other delegations.
During the swimming competition Australian athlete Mack Horton blatantly contravened the Olympic values of respect, friendship and excellence by describing China’s Sun Yang as a “drug cheat”.
The comment drew widespread condemnation and prompted the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to respond by saying it would investigate the incident.
Sun was banned for three months in 2014 after testing positive for trimetazidine, which he used to treat his heart problem for years. He failed to request a therapeutic exemption to anti-doping authorities when the drug was put on the banned substance list in 2014.
The 24-year-old showed great dignity throughout the Games, declining to enter into a war of words with Horton, despite the provocation of some media outlets.
Sun responded in the best way possible by winning the 200m freestyle, a title that had previously eluded him at both the Olympics and the world championships. It was his third Olympic gold medal following his 400m and 1,500m triumphs at the 2012 Games in London.
The United States has also been guilty of criminal and ethical breaches in the case involving swimmers Ryan Lochte, Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger and Jimmy Feigen.
The athletes said they were robbed at gunpoint when their taxi was stopped by thieves posing as police as they returned after a party to the Olympic Village.
Lochte, who fled to the US after the incident, has since admitted the story was fabricated after surveillance footage and an investigation by Brazilian police showed the swimmers had vandalized a gas station.
Instead of lying and running away from authorities, China offered a prompt and sincere response when news emerged of swimmer Chen Xinyi’s failed doping test.
Chen tested positive to the diuretic hydrochlorothiazide on Aug 7 and was immediately asked by the Chinese Swimming Association (CSA) to fully cooperate with the investigation.
“If the assertion is true, the CSA will earnestly implement anti-doping regulations and safeguard legal interests according to law,” a CSA statement said.
“The Chinese Swimming Association resolutely opposes the use of banned substances, will actively cooperate with the investigation by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and respect its final ruling,” it added.
And so a sometimes dramatic, always captivating Games of the XXXI Olympiad have come to an end.
For China, the past fortnight has been filled with triumphs of human endeavor and spirit.
A total of 70 medals — 26 gold, 18 silver and 26 bronze — put China second in the overall standings.
Diving was the most successful sport with seven out of a possible eight gold medals, followed by weightlifting with five and table tennis with four.
There were two gold medals apiece in taekwondo, athletics and badminton along with successes in shooting, swimming, volleyball and a landmark cycling triumph.
“The Chinese delegation has met expectations and the balance has been positive,” sports minister Liu Peng told a press conference.
“We are proud of our athletes and the way that they have conducted themselves during their respective competitions.”
Of all the gold medals, none had a greater impact on the morale of the Chinese population than the women’s volleyball title, according to Liu.
“The volleyball has inspired Chinese patriotism while raising pride and confidence among the country’s people,” he said.
“It was the team’s first Olympic title in 12 years. They performed magnificently, showing great fighting spirit and an exceptional level of skill in all of their games.”
Other performances singled out by Liu were those of the diving, table tennis and weightlifting teams.
The latter had been particularly impressive, recovering from a slow start to clinch four world records, he said.
Cyclists Gong Jinjie and Zhong Tianshi, who won the women’s team sprint, and Zhao Shuai, the gold medalist in the men’s 58kg taekwondo division, also drew praise from the minister.
“An important thing to remember is that the average age of the Chinese delegation is just 24,” Liu said. “That points to a bright future for China and we are optimistic about the Tokyo 2020 Games.
“Rio 2016 has enhanced friendships and understandings among peoples and aided our efforts to become goodwill ambassadors.
“All things considered, the Rio Games have been a complete success.”