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Chinese netizens rally behind ‘Japanese Doll’ Ai Fukuhara after her Olympics defeat – to a China player

China’s mighty Li Xiaoxia defeats Japan’s Ai Fukuhara to advance to table tennis final

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 11 August, 2016, 2:02am
UPDATED : Thursday, 11 August, 2016, 10:29pm

China’s defending table tennis champion Li Xiaoxia easily made it to the women’s singles finals by beating Japan’s Ai Fukuhara 4-0 – but it was the Japanese athlete who received more applause from Chinese fans.

The battle was closely watched by people in China, not only because of the usual tensions between the two countries but because Fukuhara has a huge Chinese fan base to whom she is known as the “Japanse Doll”.

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The 28-year-old Japanese athlete’s Chinese micro-blogging site, on which she has 590,000 followers, was flooded with messages of support after she was defeated on the fifth day of the Rio Olympics.

“I don’t know why but I want to cry seeing you got defeated. I am really going to cry if you don’t win bronze,” one Chinese netizen commented on Fukuhara’s Weibo page.

“Come here and let me hug you. Don’t cry,” said another.

Even the state-run China Central Television cheered for the Japanese player, saying that she had already done a “fabulous” job.

Fukuhara lost 4-11; 3-11; 1-11; 1-11 to the mighty Li.

“I was actually in pretty good form. But [Li] was just too strong,” Fukuhara said in fluent Chinese.

“I thought that [Li] would perform less well because of the pressure. But she managed to turn that pressure into motivation. I really couldn’t find a chance.”

Li said after the game that she did not expect the victory would come so easily.

"I didn't expect it because [Fukuhara] made it to the semi-finals with a 4-0 game. I was prepared to play her seven matches today, and I had in fact prepared to lose. But it turned out I controlled my mentality very well today," Li said.

Before the battle began, the Japanese player had already gained so much support among Chinese netizens that she has been advised to marry a Chinese man – an unusual olive branch given the often tense relations between the two countries.

Fukuhara, who is also fluent in written Chinese, has been keeping her fans posted about her every move at the Rio Olympics. On the day of the opening ceremony, she posted seven messages on Weibo.

Some fans have said future of relations between Japan and China depend on the player marrying a Chinese man.

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But there is a catch regarding the marriage proposal. Fukuhara already has a boyfriend – the 27-year-old Taiwanese player Chiang Hung-chieh who is also an Olympian in Rio.

In the battle for table tennis medals, Fukuhara will take on North Korea’s Kim Song-I for the bronze, while China's Li faces compatriot and teammate Ding Ning for the gold.