Japanese gymnast targeted by Chinese trolls after Olympic win

Society & Culture

After China lost to Japan in the Olympic mixed doubles table tennis final, and a Japanese gymnast beat his Chinese rival for gold, the Chinese internet is angry!

Tokyo Olympic Games 2020
Individual All-Around Medal Ceremony during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Ariake Gymnastics Centre in Tokyo, Japan. Koji Aoki / Reuters

At home, Japanese teenager Daiki Hashimoto has been crowned the nation’s new gymnastics prince. 

On Wednesday, the 19-year-old athlete performed the top horizontal bar score of the night in the last rotation of the men’s all-around final, allowing him to edge out China’s Xiāo Ruòténg 肖若腾 and win a gold medal for Japan, the host country of the 2020 Olympics Games.

But outside his home country, the rising gymnastics star is battling hundreds of millions of Chinese trolls trying to make his life miserable on social media. 

Most of Wednesday’s competition was a back-and-forth affair between Hashimoto and Xiao. Hashimoto was placed third going into the final event with Xiao leading, but the Japanese gymnast’s strong horizontal bars routine earned him the top mark of 14.933, enough to vault him over Xiao to top the podium. 

Xiao, on the other hand, ended the competition with 14.066 in the final rotation. The score was so low that Xiao’s coach filed an inquiry. A few minutes later, before Hashimoto stepped up to take his turn, it was announced that the inquiry had been rejected and the score remained unchanged. The biggest mistake in Xiao’s performance, according to judges at the game, was his failure to salute them, as per the rules, before his horizontal bar routine. This was perceived as an act of disrespect and resulted in a crushing deduction of 0.3 points from his final score. 

However, the explanation was poorly received by Chinese internet users, who were convinced that Hashimoto, as an athlete from the host country, was a benefactor of favorable treatment from biased judges. Agitated critics also took issue with the evaluation of Hashimoto’s performance on the vault, which ended with the Japanese athlete stumbling on the landing, one foot stepping out of the line. They claimed that the visible error was lightly penalized by the judges, and further proof that Hashimoto “stole” the gold medal from Xiao.

“Maybe before punishing Xiao for not saluting, the judges should have asked themselves if they deserved Xiao’s respect,” one Weibo comment read (in Chinese). “Were the judges blind or were they stupid because they drank too much radioactive water in Japan?” another said (in Chinese). 

Several famous Chinese gymnasts also chimed in on the matter — with less vitriol toward the judges and more support for Xiao. “I still want to congratulate China on winning the silver. Alas, it’s not like I don’t understand what happened. I think I understand it too well. Such a shame!” wrote (in Chinese) Lǐ Xiǎopéng 李小鹏, the legendary 40-year-old Chinese gymnast who dominated the parallel bars and vault for a whole decade before retirement. Chén Yībīng 陈一冰, a four-time world champion on rings, said on Weibo (in Chinese) that he saw Xiao as the real winner of the competition, “regardless of the results.” 

But their moderate voices were in the minority, and reactions on Weibo were predominately angry. Hashimoto’s lackluster landing was brutally ridiculed, and his social media profile became a target of Chinese trolls, who flooded his comments and tagged him in photos with cruel memes and insults. The harassment was so overwhelming that Hashimoto activated an Instagram feature this morning to forbid strangers from tagging him in posts.

Meanwhile, amid the explosion of vicious online commentary, calls for an end to the harassment were met with accusations of lack of patriotism. Even news publications had to suffer backlash for not picking a side: On Wednesday night, Tencent Sports was forced to apologize for referring to Hashimoto as a “gifted” gymnast in a headline. “We are sincerely sorry about the inappropriate wording,” the news outlet wrote (in Chinese).

It’s worth noting that the online abuse targeting Hashimoto happened at a time when anti-Japanese sentiment is on the rise on Chinese social media, especially after Japan claimed its first-ever Olympic table tennis gold medal on Monday, beating China in the mixed doubles final. China’s stunning loss caused an eruption of outrage on social media, with salty comments urging Chinese athletes to save face by defeating their Japanese rivals at the Olympics. 

Here’s a sampling of the memes on Weibo regarding Hashimoto’s victory:

Judges: What a perfect landing. His feet are still on the earth. This deserves a 14.7!
Hold on a second. I have a gold medal to pick up.


World champion