China celebrated a record gold medal haul as the Beijing Winter Olympics concluded Sunday, narrowly beating out chief geopolitical rival the United States to rank third in the medal count.
Traditionally much stronger in the Summer Games, China earned an unprecedented nine gold medals during its home-hosted winter edition after the state ploughed resources into training.
By Sunday afternoon, at least four trending hashtags related to China’s best haul had received almost 200 million views on the Twitter-like platform Weibo.
Much of that commentary was as pleased about beating the United States by one place as it was China’s best winter finish.
“Last year, the US surpassed China by one gold medal in the Summer Olympics, this year China surpassed the US by one medal,” read one comment liked more than 2,800 times.
The Chinese team won 15 medals in total – nine golds, four silvers and two bronzes.
Figure skating duo Han Cong and Sui Wenjing secured the country’s last Olympic gold – and broke a previous world record – in an emotional pairs event on Saturday evening.
Winter powerhouse Norway was in first place with 16 gold medals and a total of 37. Runner-up Germany received 12 golds and 27 medals in total.
Beijing sees the Winter Games as a propaganda showpiece with which to burnish its international image and project soft power abroad.
But the event has been clouded by political controversies.
The United States led a diplomatic boycott of the Games over China’s human rights record, which was joined by multiple Western countries.
The Games also saw a doping scandal involving a teenage Russian athlete and growing fears of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
However, Chinese medal-winners have been lionised as national heroes by state media, while Chinese social media has been flooded with patriotic comments.
“I am so proud of the Chinese team’s achievements,” 32-year-old tech worker Min Rui told AFP on Sunday as she shopped with two girlfriends near an Olympic countdown clock in one of Beijing’s central districts.
“The winter sports industry is still in its infancy and many athletes were chosen from other sporting disciplines. So coming third in the medal tally, ahead of countries like the US and Canada, is a real achievement.”
Beijing’s investment in developing winter sports has nurtured a new generation of breakout stars.
Among them are teenage snowboarding champion Su Yiming and Chinese-American skier Eileen Gu, who is the most decorated Chinese athlete with two golds and one silver medal.
Gu switched to compete for China over the United States in 2019.
China won one gold and a total of nine medals at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.
It had never won more than three gold medals in Winter Games history. – AFP