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Some of the Japanese athletes who beat Team China at the Tokyo Olympics have faced a storm of abuse on their personal social media accounts by Chinese nationalists.
Japan’s Daiki Hashimoto won gold in the men’s all-around final on Wednesday, edging China’s Xiao Ruoteng by 0.4 points. At only 19 years old, Hashimoto is the youngest gymnast in the world to have won this medal.
As Japan celebrated their victory, some in China questioned the fairness of the result and accused the judges of favoritism towards host Japan by inflating Hashimoto’s score on vault.
The anger, first sparked on Chinese social networks, quickly spread to platforms generally censored by the great Chinese firewall and inaccessible in China. Chinese trolls bypassed censorship and took to Hashimoto’s Instagram account, flooding his feed with angry comments and tagging him in insulting posts.
Many called him “Japan’s national humiliation”, others accused him of stealing China’s gold medal. Some even tagged him in pictures of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Hashimoto then changed his privacy settings on Instagram, refraining from being tagged, but angry comments continued to flow under his posts.
Following the controversy, the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) issued a statement Thursday explaining Hashimoto’s vault score, including a detailed list of imperfections.
“The FIG can assess that the score of 14.7 obtained by Hashimoto on this device is correct with regard to the code of points, as well as the final classification,” the statement concluded.
Nationalist rage against Hashimoto followed attacks on Mima Ito and Jun Mizutani, the Japanese table tennis duo who narrowly beat the Chinese team to win the first-ever mixed doubles gold medal on Monday.
The attacks are an extreme expression of the rising tide of ultra-nationalism that has swept across Chinese social media in recent years, which has silenced many liberal and moderate voices. Some Chinese netizens have tried to call for an end to online abuse, but they have also come under attack.
China currently leads the overall medal standings with 17 gold medals, followed by Japan – the hosts have won 15 gold medals so far. The United States is third with 14 gold medals.