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China's Zhu Yi falls during the women's figure skating team event on Sunday.
China’s Zhu Yi falls during the women’s figure skating team event on Sunday. (Ni Minzhe/ChinaSports/VCG/Getty Images)

China’s California-born figure skater Zhu Yi is facing a firestorm of attack on Chinese social media after she came up short on her Olympic debut Sunday.

The hashtag โ€œZhu Yi has fallenโ€ is a top trending topic on Weibo, gaining about 200 million views in just a few hours, with some users asking why an American-born skater was picked to represent China ahead of an athlete born in the country.

โ€œThis is such a disgrace,โ€ said a comment with 11,000 โ€œlikes.โ€

Zhu, 19, was the first to compete on the second day of the figure skating team event, gliding into the ice rink to loud cheers from the mostly Chinese crowd at Beijing’s Capital Indoor Stadium.

But she fell flat on the ice after a failed jump in the opening combination, and missed another jump later in the program, finishing with the lowest score of the event.

China consequently fell from third place to the fifth in the standings โ€” just enough to progress to the next round of competition.

In contrast to the online vitriol, the crowd in the stadium applauded Zhu as she bowed to the stands.

Pressure to perform: Chinese athletes face huge pressure to get results at the Olympics, with medal counts long touted by the Chinese government as a sign of national strength. In the past, many have faced a backlash for poor performances.

Zhu is among at least a dozen foreign-born athletes recruited by China in recent years in an attempt to bolster its medal count at the Winter Olympics. But the attack against her also highlights the pressure these naturalized athletes face to compete under the Chinese flag.ย 

Born in Los Angeles in 2002, she decided to compete for China in 2018 and gave up her American citizenship. She also changed her name from Beverly Zu to Zhu Yi.

But she has faced criticism in China for not being able to speak fluent Chinese.

โ€œPlease let her learn Chinese first, before she talks about patriotism,โ€ a Weibo user said on Sunday.

The attack on Zhu stands in stark contrast to the huge popularity of California-born Eileen Gu, a freeskiing prodigy who is also competing for China.

The 18-year-old has charmed the Chinese public with her fluent Mandarin and familiarity with Chinese culture, having grown up spending summer holidays in Beijing. She has become Chinaโ€™s unofficial face of the Winter Olympics, featuring heavily in state media coverage to promote winter sports, as well as advertisements for Chinese brands.

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