Beijing: Already adored for her winsome facial expressions and joyful over-enthusiasm, Chinese swimmer Fu Yuanhui has won fresh praise online for speaking frankly about having her period while competing in Rio.
Long a taboo subject for female athletes, the 20-year-old -- whose goofy, charming pool-side antics have turned her into a viral sensation -- explained frankly why she'd looked tired at the end of the 4x100-metre medley relay, where the Chinese team placed fourth.
"I didn't swim well. I'm not worthy of my team-mates," she told a Chinese television presenter, who then asked whether a stomach ache had affected her performance. "It's because I got my period yesterday," Fu said.
Her simple, honest explanation immediately went viral, sparking an avalanche of support for the bronze medallist on Chinese social media. "When I have my period, I sometimes can't even walk right or breathe. And you managed to swim, bravo!" said one supporter on China's Twitter-like Weibo.
"Did I hear right -- she really talked about her period? This girl has the courage to talk about anything," another fan wrote. Others were less sympathetic to Fu, who first endeared herself to millions with her unabashedly overjoyed response to swimming a personal best and winning a bronze medal for the 100m backstroke.
"The state spends a lot of money on her -- and she's talking about her period? Good joke, but why do you have to play the idiot in front of the whole world?" wrote one critic. "Your mothers, aunts, grandmothers all had periods -- it's natural to talk about this in 2016," retorted another Weibo-user.
Fu has become the biggest Chinese star of Rio, with her over-the-top facial expressions inspiring emoticons and going viral online. She now has more than six million followers to her Weibo account and been hailed by Chinese state media for showing another side to the more typical robotic athlete stereotype.
As she flew back into Beijing airport Tuesday, she was greeted by crowds of fans clamouring for a selfie.
Fu has always had an enthusiastic pool-side manner -- a video from the World Championships in Kazan in 2015 shows her grinning with joy and shaking her head on the podium, alongside her more serious team mates. In another video that has since gone viral, she is seen tugging at her swimsuit then wincing in pain when it snaps back on her chest.
"Even if you have large breasts, these swimsuits really flatten everything!" she says, referring to the super-tight suits swimmers must wear for competitions.
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