California-born Chinese figure skater Zhu Yi declared her “excitement” at the possibility of becoming “another big name for China” when she renounced her US citizenship in 2018. Zhu has certainly fulfilled that potential at the Beijing Winter Olympics – just not for the right reasons. After a costly team event fumble and further falls in the free skate , the sniffling 19-year-old was subjected to negative comments on Chinese social media platform Sina Weibo, where she was labelled “a disgrace” and “dream-stealer”, with hashtags such as “ Shame on Zhu Yi ”, “Zhu Yi has fallen” and “Zhu Yi cried again”. Be it her lack of Mandarin, her US background, or accusations she was handed China’s sole women’s singles Olympic spot because of her father’s high-profile career, Zhu became an easy target for the relentless online trolls. Several teammates have since come to her defence, while the case ignited fierce commentaries over how people treat young athletes, double standards with freestyle skier Eileen Gu , and more. While much of the hate has since been extinguished by messages of sympathy for a teenager who had the best of intentions in representing her parents’ homeland, almost everybody seems to have forgotten about her legitimate skating potential. From her razor-thin decision to represent China or the US, to almost calling it quits after a nasty foot injury, here’s what you need to know about the girl who state media touted as an “ Ice Goddess ” and “skating prodigy” in the lead-up to the Games. Biography Zhu Yi, or Beverly Zhu, was born on September 19, 2002, in Los Angeles to Chinese parents. Her father, Zhu Songchun, and mother, Cui Jie, immigrated to the US for work. She has one sister, Stephanie. Zhu’s father, a renowned artificial intelligence expert , graced his daughter with a “simple” two-character name in a tribute to classic Chinese divination book Yi Jing – also known as the Book of Changes . “We wanted her to make a difference in whatever she does,” he told China Central Television, adding he hoped her name would “not be forgotten”. Zhu pulled on her first skates aged seven after joining classes with a family friend. It did not long to “get the hang of it”, as junior regional coaches quickly took notice. Her mother would take Zhu to the historic Los Angeles Figure Skating Club almost every day for more than six years. She eventually gave up her full-time job to guide her daughter’s fledgling junior career. Though missing out on consecutive US junior nationals, Zhu won her first notable title at the US junior novice championships in 2018. The same year, Zhu switched allegiances to become one of several overseas recruits China made ahead of Beijing 2022. She was examined by trailblazer Chen Lu – a former world champion and double-Olympic medallist who won her country’s first medal in figure skating. In one of her first Chinese representative team outings, Zhu came fourth at the national championships in Harbin in 2019. Two months later, she was third at the Sofia Trophy, and 11th at a China Grand Prix event. A 13th place outing at the distinguished Four Continents Championship in 2020 certainly helped with confidence, before Zhu came 22nd at the junior worlds. Pre-Olympics, Zhu finished seventh at the Asia Open Trophy, a Beijing Games test event , and set her personal bests – combined total 171.25, short programme 60.00 and free skate 111.25 – at the 2021 Gran Premio d’Italia last November. Coached by Chinese Olympian Li Wei, Zhu has been skating this season to The Rolling Stones’ Paint it Black in the short programme, and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard in the free skate. View this post on Instagram A post shared by 朱易✿ (@beverly.zhu) Then came the first wave of controversy. Zhu’s Olympic selection was met intense criticism from local figure skating fans, who were adamant stars such as 2020 Cup of China winner Chen Hongyi, and former US national junior bronze medallist Ashley Lin Shan would be better suited. Texas-born Lin chose to represent China in 2019. The sceptics likely felt vindicated after watching Zhu crash into the Beijing Capital Indoor Stadium’s sideboard in the team event . “I’m upset and a little embarrassed,” Zhu said afterwards, tears running down her face. “I guess I felt a lot of pressure because I know everyone in China was surprised with the selection … I just really wanted to show what I was able to do, but unfortunately, I didn’t.” A day later, Zhu fell to last place in the free skate, where China finished fifth. ‘There is a lot of room for her to improve’ Sacrificing ballet, piano-playing and art, Zhu was serious about her figure skating career from early on. “I like to laugh, have fun, and be silly with friends and stuff,” she told CCTV two years ago. “But on the ice, I focus on what I’m doing.” “I’m excited to have the opportunity to skate for China, and to become another big name. To make myself and the audience happy when I’m skating.” Zhu had been learning under three-time Olympian Ivan Dinev for much of her US-based training. The 11-time Bulgarian national champion gave insight into her national representative dilemma. “The opportunity to represent China is big,” he said soon after she made her choice. “But I feel like it was a very hard decision, because at that moment she was top in her novice level. She had won the nationals and was very close to becoming Team USA. “That was the moment when she [had to decide] where to go. ‘What can China offer? What can the US offer?’ I think it wasn’t an easy decision, but she made the right one.” It was not as if Zhu could waltz into the legendary Chen’s singles team, either. She was thoroughly scrutinised in training by then-women’s head coach Chen, before acknowledging her “good potential”. “She completed three weeks with high quality. Of course, a star skater requires artistic expression and maturity. There is a lot of room for her to improve,” Chen told Beijing News . ‘Should I continue or not?’ National affiliations aside, Zhu’s figure skating trajectory took a turn after a training injury in 2018. She required stitches in her foot, but it was the mental stress that plagued her most. “It was a silly end-of-the-day jump, and she stepped on her foot and [the blade] went through the tongue [of her skates] and all the way into two bones,” Dinev told CCTV. “It took forever to heal and it was a big challenge for her. Almost to the point of ‘should I continue or not?’. But she had lots of help from family and coaching staff.” Zhu added: “When I stabbed my foot, it was really hard for me to come back and train to be where I am now. I was scared to jump after, and kept thinking there was stuff wrong. It affected everything. “When I got back, my coaches put me on the positional harness and got me rotating again, and my friends and family kept telling me I’d get through it.” A week before her Olympics outing, Zhu shared her goals on Instagram: “So so so honoured to be representing team China at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. After five test skates, I’m proud to have fought till the very end to achieve such a big dream of mine. “Especially after having a couple of rough years, I’m so grateful for those who helped me push past the negative thoughts and injuries; helping me grow throughout this journey. Hoping to show everyone how hard I’ve worked and put the best version of myself out there on the ice!” View this post on Instagram A post shared by 朱易✿ (@beverly.zhu) ‘She steals people’s dreams’ One catalyst in the “Shame on Zhu Yi” saga is her father’s work. Zhu Songchun is a renowned AI expert who switched his position at the University of California, Los Angeles to lead Peking University’s Institute for General Artificial Intelligence in 2020. Professor Zhu would work with both the central government and Beijing to set-up new academic institutes for collaboration, the University said at the time. A Hubei native, Zhu attained his PhD from Harvard University and is considered to be at the forefront of “computer vision”. Netizens have – without evidence – linked the Hubei native’s high-level ties with Zhu receiving a coveted Beijing Olympics spot. “She steals people’s dreams and positions,” one troll wrote, before the 200 million views-strong hashtag was seemingly censored. ‘Like a family’ Several Chinese teammates rushed to Zhu’s defence following the online vitriol. “Zhu Yi has been very hard-working,” men’s figure skating teammate Jin Boyang , a two-time world championships bronze medallist, told Xinhua. “She faced immense pressure, and it was her first time at the Olympics, held in Beijing, her home country. I hope she can adjust. We will all consoler her and hope she can perform her best next time.” Reigning Asian Winter Games gold medallist ice dancer, Wang Shiyue , was seen embracing a struggling Zhu as she waited for her score rinkside. “It’s like a family to compete here in Beijing together with my team. I’m so grateful to have them,” Zhu said. “Without my teammates, I don’t even know whether I can make it.” Fresh gold medallist Eileen Gu told reporters after her win that Zhu was “already amazing” to have made it to the Games, and that “mistakes and pressure are both part of the sport”. She later commented on an Instagram post by Insider, detailing how Zhu “gave up her US citizenship to compete for China – now, she’s being attacked by Chinese social media users after falling in her Olympic debut”. “As someone who actually uses Chinese social platforms, I’m going to say right here that over 90 per cent of comments are positive and uplifting. It’s part of the sport and everyone understands [that],” Gu wrote. Though she likely wants to see the back of the Games sooner rather than later, Zhu still has the women’s singles short programme event on February 15, and the finals two days later if she ranks high enough.