Chinese sports fans were left to rue the one that got away yesterday after Olympic weightlifter Zulfiya Chinshanlo claimed the women's 53kg clean-and-jerk gold medal for Kazakhstan at the London Games.
Chinshanlo, who won by breaking her own world record with a lift of 131kg, was born and bred in China under the name Zhao Changling, according to Xinhua.
The 19-year-old was born and raised in Hunan province and moved to Kazakhstan in 2008 after the national team from the central Asian nation saw her potential during a visit to Hunan a year earlier, Xinhua said. The revelation appeared to inflame patriotic sentiment online, especially as Chinshanlo's Chinese rival Zhou Jun crashed out in the early stages of the competition.
Zhou Junfu, director of the Hunan Weightlifting Association, was quoted by Xinhua as saying the State General Administration of Sports decided in 2008 to allow the youngster to compete for Kazakhstan.
However, a report by mainland news portal NetEase claimed she was offered to Kazakhstan by Ma Wenguang, the general secretary of the International Weightlifting Federation and president of the Chinese Weightlifting Association.
To add to the intrigue, the official London Olympics website lists Chinshanlo birthplace as Khazakhstan's former capital, Almaty.
In the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, Chinshanlo told mainland reporters she spoke perfect Putonghua because she was a Dungan, a Kazakhstani Muslim of Chinese origin. Xinhua said reporters from Kazakhstan at the Olympics told the same story.
There were calls online for the sports officials to be punished. 'How could they give away our best athlete. These officials must have lost their minds,' wrote one Weibo user.
In sports where nationality transfers are allowed, the Olympic Charter requires a three-year 'cooling off' period except where it is waived by the country of origin. Due to fierce competition, many mainland athletes have opted to represent other countries after failing to win a berth in the national team.
'I couldn't even get a chance to join the Olympics if I stayed in China,' Chinshanlo told NetEase.
Xinhua said Chinshanlo didn't want to answer any questions related to China, but when asked if she wanted to return, she answered in Chinese after a long pause: 'I don't know.'
Li Xueying, 22, won China's second weightlifting gold yesterday, leading the way in both the snatch and the clean and jerk in the women's 58kg category.