Does a romantic declaration on social media spell the end for Chinese table tennis sensation Zhang Jike’s career?
Speculation surrounding Olympic hero’s career is rife following social media post and star’s recent inactivity
Chinese social media buzzed on Thursday after the joint announcement of the country’s latest high-profile romance when table tennis superstar Zhang Jike and movie star Jing Tian announced they were in a relationship on Weibo with a well-timed reveal.
However, focus immediately shifted to three-time Olympic gold medallist Zhang’s sporting future, with some suggesting it could spell the end of his incredible ping pong career.
The duo finally put an end to months of speculation when they posted the announcement in a simultaneous Weibo postings which read: “K (heart-shaped emoji) T” – “K” standing for Ke, an abbreviation of Zhang’s given name. The announcement was published alongside a photo of the pair strolling hand-in-hand along a beach.
Zhang, 30, has missed a number of events in recent months through persistent injuries since his most recent high-profile triumph – a gold medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
His run of injuries coupled with the state’s general disapproval of its players becoming engaged in high-profile romances have led to rumours that Zhang’s career could be over.
He stated in August 2016 that he intended to play on until the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. But it seems Cupid may have altered his plans.
In recent months Zhang, who became only the fourth male player in the sport’s history to earn a career grand slam of Olympic, world championship and World Cup titles, has become the subject of many tabloid column inches and has been a frequent face on Chinese variety shows and reality TV fuelling speculation he could now pursue a career in entertainment.
Zhang, who reportedly earned a record US$9 million (HK$70.6 million) in prize money and endorsements in 2016, has not participated in any competitions during 2018 and was a notable absentee from China’s team for the upcoming World Team Table Tennis Championships in Sweden. He was most recently ranked 54th in the world rankings.
Jing is one of China’s biggest movie stars and has successfully made the switch to the big screen in Hollywood. She has already played prominent roles in the Pacific Rim and Kong movie franchises and is tipped for more big roles in the US.