SINGAPORE - Fu Yuanhui won the bronze medal in the women's 100m backstroke at the Rio Olympics and has also won over the Internet with her heart of gold.
The 20-year-old Chinese swimmer shot to fame when her interview with a CCTV reporter after the 100m backstroke semi-final (Aug 7) went viral - she appeared utterly gobsmacked when the reporter informed her that she had completed the swim with a sub-59sec timing.
"58.95 seconds?!" she exclaimed, eyes wide and mouth agape. "I thought it was 59 seconds!
"I was so fast!"
She continued with the interview seeming completely flabbergasted, claiming that she had used her entire reserve of "mystic energy" to deliver her new personal best.
When asked about her expectations for the final on Aug 8, she shook her head vigorously and insisted that her performance in the semi-final had been enough to appease her. Yet, her time of 58.76sec in the final the next day saw her standing on the podium with a bronze medal around her neck.
And audiences enjoyed another showcase of Fu's animated reactions during her post-final interview, when she was completely oblivious to the fact that she had just won her first Olympic medal.
She thought that she had just missed out on third to Kylie Masse, and looked crestfallen, when the CCTV reporter interrupted to tell her that she had in fact tied with the Canadian, finishing just 0.01 sec behind silver medallist Kathleen Baker of the United States.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mAvyojeegCE
The backstroke specialist has not only seen a huge jump in performance - she finished 8th in the same event at the 2012 London Olympics - but also a sharp surge in her Internet following.
Her number of followers on Chinese social media platorm Weibo has increased from 550,000 before the Olympics to almost 4.1 million today. Fans have even created a series of Fu-inspired cartoons depicting some of her many animated and theatrical expressions.
Some shared photographs of themselves imitating her pose. Photo galleries of her grins and grimaces have hit media outlets such as China’s People’s Daily Online and the footage of her semi-finals interview has also been turned into GIFs.
As doping cast a shroud over the Rio Olympics and American swimmers Michael Phelps and Lilly King criticising drug cheats from Russia and China, Fu's irrepressible delight has endeared her to the world.