Chinese Olympic Swimmers

Talk About the Olympics Like a Champ

A Chinese language guide to cheering on your team and dealing with defeat

Delayed by a year and held without a live audience due to the continuing Covid-19 pandemic, the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo has nevertheless attracted legions of "melon-eating masses (吃瓜群众 chīguā qúnzhòng, onlookers)" worldwide to tune in to the competitions, celebrate athletes' wins, and kvetch about the scores.

Chinese media and netizens are no exception, congregating online every day to cheer on their team and comfort themselves about losses. Here are some useful words and phrases to remember if you want to join in the conversation:

Before the match

At the start of each event of the Olympics, announcers and TV commentators will usually try to drum up excitement for spectators by implying that the Chinese athletes have a chance to win gold, known as 摘金 (zhāijīn, "pick up gold") or 夺冠 (duóguàn, "snatch the championship"). Experienced competitors may be expected to defend their title (卫冕 wèimiǎn) or even achieve a "grand slam (大满贯 dàmǎnguàn)"—winning all the major competitions in their sport—with an Olympic victory. Amazingly, Chinese table tennis player Ma Long achieved both when he defended his gold medal in the men's singles competition on July 30, becoming the only men's table tennis player in history to win a grand slam twice.

This afternoon at 2, Team China will defend their title in diving. Come on!

Xiàwǔ liǎng diǎn, Zhōngguóduì tiàoshuǐ xiàngmù jiāng yào wèimiǎn guànjūn. Chōng ya!


Seasoned Chinese sports fans often refer to teams using nicknames (as do celebrity fans for their idols). The national women’s football team, for example, is called the “Iron Roses (铿锵玫瑰 kēngqiāng méiguī)” due to its unlikely victories in the 1990s. Though the team hasn't been able to recover its past glories nowadays, the athletes are still praised for their strong fighting spirit.

The Chinese women's football team are “Iron Roses.” Victory is bound to be yours! Go “Iron Roses,” go Team China!

Zhōngguó nǚzú shì “kēngqiāng méigui,” shènglì bì jiāng shǔyú nǐmen!Jiāyóu “kēngqiāng méigui,” jiāyóu Zhōngguóduì!


In some events like badminton and table tennis, where Chinese athletes dominate, netizens may wish that both players in the final come from China:

In the all-important gold-medal group tournament, the goal of the Chinese badminton teams is play each other so they can sweep the gold and silver medals for China.

Zuòwéi Zhōngguó yǔmáoqiúduì zuì zhǔyào de duójīndiǎn, liǎng duì Zhōngguó zǔhé de mùbiāo shì huìshī juésài, wèi Zhōngguóduì tíqián bāolǎn jīnyínpái.


Dealing with defeat

During past Olympics, Chinese netizens have been criticized for their obsession with gold medals and their toxic behavior even toward athletes who win silver or bronze. This year, though, led by mainstream media, the online discourse have been surprisingly more rational when Chinese athletes lose. The national women's volleyball team, winner of the 2016 Olympics and several World Championships, shocked and dismayed viewers at home during the first week of the Games by suffering three straight defeats in the small-group tournaments. Many fans, though, declared:

The women’s volleyball team will always be the best in my heart. Come on! Show other teams your real strength!

Sīháo bù yǐxiǎng tāmen zài wǒ xīnzhōng de dìwèi, jiāyóu nǚpái, ràng shìjiè jiànshi jiànshi Zhōngguó nǚpái de zhēnshí shílì!


Netizens may also jokingly blame themselves for athletes' defeats:

Team China always loses when I tune in to watch! I've held the nation back from becoming champions!

Wǒ yí kàn bǐsaì Zhōngguóduì jiù shū! Wǒ dānwù guójiāduì duóguàn le!


As Chinese netizen’s confidence grows with the growth national power, however, perhaps counting gold medals will soon be a thing of the past, and comments like the following will become more common:

The Olympic spirit is all about participation. You are all the best!

Àoyùn jīngshen zhòng zài cānyǔ, nǐmen dōu shi zuì bàng de!


Swooning over stars

Winning (and losing) in the Olympic Games aren't just matters for the country, but the athletes themselves, who go through years of hard training and go all-out for those medals. When they succeed, fans may celebrate along with them by exclaiming, "好样的 (hǎoyàng de, so good)," "太帅了 (tài shuài le, so cool)," or even just "稳 (wěn, steady)!" When table tennis player Sun Yingsha defeated Japan's Mima Ito in the women's singles semifinals, after the Chinese team suffered a shocking defeat earlier in the week by Ito and her partner Jun Mizutani in the mixed doubles tournament, Weibo erupted in ecstasy:

I love Sun Yingsha’s strong recovery; she gained eight straight points with composure.

Wǒ xǐhuan Sūn Yǐngshā de bàqì nìzhuǎn, liánzhuī bā fēn, chénzhuó yìngzhàn!


Nicknames are another way Chinese netizens show affectation for their favorite athletes. When swimmer Zhang Yufei grabbed two consecutive gold medals in the women’s 200-meters butterfly and 4x200 freestyle relay finals, Chinese viewers nicknamed her as the “swimming butterfly (雨蝶 yǔdié)” and "flying fish (霏鱼 fēiyú)”—the latter is one of many puns using the sounds of Zhang's name:

Zhang's last 50-meter sprint was so cool! The gold is surely yours!

Zuìhòu wǔ shí mǐ de chōngcì tài shuài le! Jīnpái fēinǐ mòshǔ!


Ah, the controversies

Where sports are being played, controversy is never far away. For Chinese fans, the most common way to complain about perceived unfairness in scoring is to accuse the referee or judges of being blind:

What I find most touching from these Games is not the athletes who fight on despite losing the title, but the referees who stick to their post despite losing sight in both eyes.

Běnjiè Àoyùnhuì shang zuì lìng wǒ gǎndòng de, bú shì nàxie wèi dé jiǎngpái réngrán pīnbó de yùndòngyuán, érshì nàxie shuāngmù shīmíng yīrán jiānshǒu zài gǎngwèi shàng de cáipànmen.


They might also vent more philosophically:

The Olympic spirit of justice and fairness is ruined.

Gōngzhèng de Àolínpǐkè jīngshen, dào zhèli quán chéngle bǎishe.


Sports controversies, at least, have the chance of uniting an online community like nothing else. In the face of disputed Olympic results, netizens can usually put aside their petty squabbles and claim their country's athlete was robbed, as one. As an online saying goes, “We celebrate together when we win, and fight together when we lose (赢了一起狂,输了一起扛 Yíngle yìqǐ kuáng, shūle yìqǐ káng).”


author Aaron Hsueh

Aaron Hsueh is a Chinese editor at China News Service and a former intern at The World of Chinese. He graduated from the University of International Business and Economics in July of 2021. Being a travel and culture enthusiast and a sports fanatic, he writes mainly on Chinese culture and language.

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