China has a new hero after swimmer Liu Xiang broke the women’s 50m backstroke world record, earning comparisons with the nation’s best-known supermodel and confirming her unofficial title of “swimming goddess.”
The 21-year-old was already known among Chinese sports fans, but her feat at the Asian Games on Tuesday has catapulted her to a new level of fame and seen her showered with gushing praise from the media and online.
Liu surged to gold in Indonesia in 26.98 seconds, the first time a woman has broken the 27-second barrier.
Many people on Chinese social media said she bore a strong resemblance to compatriot Liu Wen, one of the world’s highest-paid models.
“Could they be sisters?” one user asked on Sina Weibo.
“Wow, she can break a world record and has such beauty and elegance. What a goddess,” another said.
However, the “swimming goddess” title is not one that sits comfortably with Liu Xiang.
“I’m not a vase, I’m a world-record holder,” Tencent Sports quoted her as saying after she shaved eight-hundredths of a second off countrywoman Zhao Jing’s previous world best, set in 2009.
“I think my looks are OK, but not to an outstanding point. I still value performance and speed more,” she told Tencent late last year.
The People’s Daily said it was time to move on from the preoccupation with Liu Xiang’s looks.
“Liu Xiang has been famous for a long time, but is known more to the public for her good looks,” it said in an editorial, calling her world-record time “a surprise.”
Before her record-breaking swim, Liu Xiang’s performance had been “good, but not good enough to make people forget her appearance and remember the results,” the paper said.
“But after this, people will associate her with breaking the world record, not just for being beautiful,” it added.
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