Debate on top-10 Chinese athletes list sheds light on underachivement year amid breakthroughs
Published: Dec 28, 2023 03:30 PM
Yin Ruoning lifts her first Women's PGA Championship trophy (photo from LPGA's official Weibo account)

Yin Ruoning lifts her first Women's PGA Championship trophy (photo from LPGA's official Weibo account)

A national news organization unveiled its top-10 list of domestic Chinese athletes recently. The list soon caused a few raised eyebrows as it did not include several athletes that made significant breakthroughs in 2023.

The list includes chess world champion Ding Liren, para athlete Wen Xiaoyan and mountaineer Dong Hongjuan who rarely appeared in sports news coverage. 

But this does not mean their achievement did not deserve to be celebrated, as Ding’s achievement of winning the World Chess Championship marks the first Chinese male chess player to win the title. 

One notable omission from the list is Yin Ruoning, the rising star who claimed the top spot in women's golf. Her remarkable achievements and ascent to the pinnacle of her sport seemed insufficient to secure a spot among the elite athletes of the year. 

Similarly, Wang Xinyu, a Grand Slam doubles champion in women's tennis at the French Open, is also excluded from the list. The absence of these accomplished female athletes has raised criticism, leading to questions about the criteria used in the selection process.

Chinese sprinter Xie Zhenye’s inclusion in the list also fueled the debate. His most prominent achievement this year has been winning the gold medal in the men’s 100 meters at the Asian Games with a wind-assisted 9.97 seconds. 

But the result is still far from satisfactory, leaving many puzzled as to why he made the cut. Xie’s injury-plagued season is considered mediocre, as he is yet to qualify for the Paris Olympics, which requires an under-10-second finish without wind assist. 

The other male Chinese athlete who made it into the list is swimmer Qin Haiyang, who achieved an unprecedented feat by winning the gold in the men's 50-, 100- and 200-meter breaststroke at the World Aquatics Championships. His stunning performance throughout the year makes inclusion in the list undisputed. 

Taking a broader look at the landscape of Chinese sports in 2023, the performance of the "big three" ball sports—basketball, football, and volleyball—leaves much to be desired. Among the six teams representing these sports, only the women's basketball team managed to salvage some pride. The remaining teams struggled to make a significant impact on the international stage, highlighting the challenges faced by Chinese athletes in these disciplines.

The criteria for evaluating athletes' achievements and contributions remain a topic of contention, emphasizing the need for a more comprehensive approach to recognize the diverse accomplishments across various sports. 

Shortlists and rankings often stir debates and controversy, as they always bring to light complexities and nuances. As 2024 marks a “big” year for sports, headlined by the Paris Olympics, the debate on the performances of Chinese athletes, who are sparing no effort preparing for the Games, will go on.