With Rio 2016 in full flow and the medals coming in thick and fast, China is once again a nation dominating the diving and table tennis fields. Sporting prowess has long been associated with China – with more gold medals likely to come, here are some of China’s most impressive Olympic wins through the years.
Li Ning – Los Angeles, 1984
Crowned the ‘Prince of Gymnastics’, Li Ning catapulted to fame during the LA Olympics in the ‘80s, wowing audiences worldwide due to his agility and outstanding artistic ability.
Ning picked up three golds (in floor exercise, pommel horse, and rings), two silvers and one bronze, totalling six medals in one Olympics, which still remains a record for any Chinese Olympic athlete.
The 1984 Olympics were particularly meaningful for the nation too, being the first Olympics that China participated in after the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. As such, Li Ning became the nation’s face of the Olympics, heralding the start of future sporting successes for China.
Fu Mingxia – Atlanta, 1996
Further successes came for China in the next Olympics hosted in the USA, with Fu Mingxia winning two medals in diving events. Her skills shone through in both the 3m springboard and 10m platform.
As a result she became the first female diver to accomplish this feat since 1960. This was a key moment in Chinese sporting history, paving the path for both female and male athletes to step up and come out top in diving events in the future.
Deng Yaping – Atlanta, 1996
Table tennis has always been a sport that China has dominated the medals for but Deng Yaping is perhaps the most well known athlete associated with the sport.
Following on from her two golds at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, Yaping won a further two golds four years later in Atlanta, claiming the honourable title of being the first Chinese athlete to defend two events and win four Olympic gold medals.
Once again, ICO president, Juan Antonio Samaranch, presented the gold medals to her, after promising Yaping in the 1992 medal ceremonies that they would see each other again by the podium.
Liu Xiang – Athens, 2004
Raising the bar during the athletics, Liu Xiang earned the title of first Chinese male athlete to win gold in an Olympic track event, beating favourite, American runner Terrance Trammell, in the 110m hurdles.
Xiang hadn’t even been a major contender in the race so his triumph was enormously celebrated in the press – not only did he beat more well-known rivals, he also equalled the world record of 12.91 seconds, originally set by British sprinter Colin Jackson in the 1993 World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany.
The Chinese athlete was awarded the honour of being the country’s flag bearer during the Athens closing ceremony. Unfortunately though, Xiang suffered injuries at consequent Olympics, having to pull out of races last minute.
Zou Kai – Beijing, 2008
Beijing really was the year for Chinese athletes as the honour of hosting the Olympics brought new confidence to team China, with 51 golds, 21 silvers, 28 bronze medals, and the title of world champions under their belts by the end.
Perhaps the biggest overall sporting achievement was in gymnastics where a remarkable eleven gold medals were won. Zou Kai added three of these to the scoreboard, unexpectedly winning at the individual floor exercise and horizontal bar, as well as contributing to the male team gymnastics win.
The young gymnast was only the second Chinese Olympian to achieve three goal medals at a single Olympic Games, following on from fellow gymnast Li Ning’s title at LA 1984. He since went on to win a further two gold medals in London 2012, boosting his title to first Chinese athlete to win five goal medals at any Olympics.
Zhang Juanjuan – Beijing, 2008
Before the Beijing Olympics, Korea had long dominated archery. Zhang Juanjuan brought a spectacular closure to these records though, breaking through the Korean competition to earn a gold medal. This win in the women’s individual archery, became China’s first gold of the sport, and the very first time that a non-Korean had won gold in the event since 1984.
Sun Yang – London, 2012
Proving that China could come out top in the water, away from the diving board, Sun Yang claimed China’s first gold male swimming medal at any Olympic event. Before the London Olympics, Yang was the world-recorder holder for the race as of the previous year, thus he lived up to his title in London.
As a hugely tipped favourite, he actually ended up beating his own world-record and the standing Olympic record in the 1500m freestyle and won a gold medal in the men’s 400m freestyle too.
This status was only equalled by world-record-holder, American swimmer Michael Phelps, who also won two gold medals in two separate, individual races that year.
Wu Minxia – Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), 2016
Already, China is setting records at the Rio Olympics – Minxia became the first diver to win five Olympic golds after her victory alongside partner Shi Tingmao in the 3m synchronised springboard event.
She held the title of gold medallist, alongside different partners, in the events at Athens 2004, Beijing 2008, and London 2012, as well as winning gold in the individual London 2012 women’s 3m springboard.
The superb diver has finished her time in Rio, after participating only in the single event and is now likely to retire.
Rio is not yet over though, and already China holds a strong place in the medal tables. The big question is will they repeat their performance at their very own Beijing 2008 games, to become world Olympic champions?
Looking to the future, with Tokyo solidifying their place as the 2020 Olympic hosts, we can all expect plenty more gold medals for China to come in their neighbouring country.