What happened: Millions have tuned into a news conference held by Japanese figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu where he tantelized them about his future in the sport. At least six million of these were Chinese fans eagerly watching a livestream of his appearance on social media sites such as Weibo and Tencent.
Why it matters: Olympic fever has well and truly gripped China as public enthusiasm for winter sports continues to skyrocket. The hashtag #beijingwinterolympics# now has a staggering 16.2 billion views. As well as drawing killer ratings, the games have produced a breed of Olympian superstars who are capturing the hearts of million of Chinese citizens — from Eileen Gu to Wu Dajing. Despite failing to secure a medal, Hanyu has now joined their ranks.
The dashing 27 year old was on track to clinch a third Olympic title but instead placed fourth. This, however, has not dented his shine. Instead, the skater has gone viral on China’s social platforms: the hashtag #YuzuruHanyu has 5.89 billion views on Weibo and 140 million views on Xiaohongshu.
💕A big thanks goes out to all the figure skaters for their incredible performances over the past few days at the Beijing 2022. You all deserve a big round of applause!👏✨
— Beijing 2022 (@Beijing2022) February 11, 2022
What’s behind the craze: From his stylish costumes to his boyish looks, Hanyu has been taken to Chinese hearts as a bona fide sports icon similar to an idol. On social media, Chinese fans lovingly refer to Hanyu as “Youzi” (which refers to the citrus fruit pomelo). Commentators have dissected his anatomical make-up with pinpoint precision. CCTV, China’s State broadcaster said: “The face is like jade, the body is like a pine tree, astonishing skills, and he is graceful as a dragon”.
And it’s an opinion that is echoed by thousands online. Hanyu’s appeal, notably, flies patently in the face of recent government crackdowns on effeminate men and, as such, illustrates a continued appreciation for androgynous style among Chinese citizens. Plus, his popularity sends out a rallying cry against toxic masculinity.
This sport is also benefitting from his half effect: the hashtag #Costume of a figure skater# hit 140 million views on Weibo and since the start of the Olympics (in January), the number of posts on Xiaohongshu containing “skating” has increased by 188 percent. Much online discourse has been praising Youzi’s joyous skating costumes — often made in collaboration with the designer Ito Satomi.
The Bottom line: The country’s drive to get 300 million people involved in winter sports — an inspired initiative set out by President Xi — has resulted in an unprecedented uptick in the sector. Consequently, this boom has created market opportunities that benefit domestic and foreign luxury brands. Xi has stated on occasions that, “ice and snow are also as valuable as gold and silver”. While Hanyu missed out on a medal this time, he might well be the real winner of the games.