The Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 finally began earlier this month after being postponed for a year because of the pandemic. Despite not having any spectators, the Games continues to make headlines worldwide. For starters, Japanese tennis champ and Louis Vuitton ambassador Naomi Osaka lit the Olympic Cauldron for 2021 and made history as the first-ever tennis pro to ever do so.
There was also a splendid performance by Japanese star MISIA—her cotton candy dress by designer Tomo Koizumi stole the show—and pyrotechnics on full display to get everyone hyped up for the games. The opening ceremony also featured athletes from all over the world marching with pride and their national flags held high in: Team USA wore a red-white-and-blue preppy combo by Ralph Lauren; Team Libera in custom Telfar and the Italian sportspeople wore Giorgio Armani.
As magnificent as the ceremony was, it was all but a precursor to the actual events that took place in the following days—most of which had little to do with actual athletic prowess and more to do with the athletes themselves.
Ahead, we rounded up the 9 sportspersons of Asian descent who became hot topics on social media.
1. Naomi Osaka
The Tokyo Olympics marked Naomi Osaka’s return to tennis after she made headlines last month for withdrawing from the French Open citing mental health reasons. And the tennis star couldn’t seem to catch a break because she started trending once again when she was eliminated from the Olympics tennis tournament. Osaka was beaten by former French Open finalist Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic 6-1, 6-4 in the third round of the Olympic tennis tournament.
But the tennis pro quickly picked herself up and reassured fans on her Instagram by posting a picture of herself with the caption: “I’m here for a good time.”
Earlier this year, Osaka was appointed co-chair of the upcoming MET Gala alongside Call Me By Your Name star Timothée Chalamet. She also scored a highly covetable position as Louis Vuitton’s brand ambassador for their Spring 2021 collection. Needless to say, we’ll be seeing a lot more of Osaka— on or off court.
2. Joseph Schooling
Singapore’s Joseph Schooling also made headlines when he failed to qualify for the semi-finals at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre. “It’s a very disappointing performance overall, but there’s always another one. It’s not going to end like this,” Schooling said.
Back on our shores, people were having a field day on social media. Some netizens expressed their disappointment in Schooling’s performance at the Olympics while others commented that winning isn’t everything and that we should uplift and support Schooling nonetheless.
Schooling also took to Instagram to speak to his fans. “Hey guys! Thanks for all the wishes and support – it means the world to me. I’ll take some time to process everything and get back to you as soon as I can. Much love from Tokyo ❤️ Majulah Singapura ??,” he captioned his post.
3. Welson Sim
Twenty-four-year-old Welson Sim is the first Malaysian male swimmer to qualify for the Olympic Games—under the ‘A’ category in the 200m and 400m freestyle—in Rio 2016. He earned his second ticket to this year when he qualified for the 200m and 400m freestyle in Tokyo.
Sim, rose to fame on Chinese social networking site Weibo for his charming good looks. Photographs of the Malaysian athlete and his biography were widely shared, earning him compliments and newfound fans.
But life in the fast lane hasn’t always been smooth. The swimmer was diagnosed with asthma at an early age, and it was actually his mother who encouraged him to take up swimming as a way to improve his condition.
4. Ran Takahashi
Nineteen-year-old Japanese volleyball rookie Ran Takahashi also rose to fame this Olympics season with his slick moves on court and good looks on Twitter. Elsewhere on TikTok, users shared rumours that the up-and-coming athlete checks his social media regularly, which prompted even more fans to tag him.
Takahashi might be exiting the Olympics without a medal—the Japanese volleyball team was eliminated at the Ariake Arena on August 3 after losing to Brazil—but he has won the hearts of many newfound fans.
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5. Momiji Nishiya
Japanese skateboarder Momiji Nishiya made history as Japan’s youngest gold medalist—she’s only 13 years old. Skateboarding is one of the new categories being added to the Olympics, and it definitely didn’t disappoint.
6. Yu Mengyu
Representing Singapore for the second time in the Olympics, table tennis player Yu Mengyu was determined to bring home the gold medal . However, during the semi-final match against China’s Cheng Ming, she succumbed to knee injuries which have been bugging her since the last Olympics. Those who witnessed Yu succumbing to her injuries took to Instagram to show their support—something she never really paid much attention to before, but is grateful all the same.
“Which athlete comes to the Olympics and doesn’t want to win a medal? I feel everybody wants to,” she said. “But given the problems that I faced (with my injuries), it was tough to get here. So being able to stand here, my heart is just full of gratitude.”
7. Hidilyn Diaz
Philippines’ Hidilyn Diaz became the poster girl for hard work and determination as well as a national hero when she clinched the gold medal for weightlifting at the Olympics, giving pandemic-weary Filipinos much to celebrate.
She became the first Filipino to ever win an Olympic gold medal in a non-exhibition sport, and now holds the Olympic weightlifting record by winning the women’s 55 kg category for weightlifting at the 2020 Summer Olympics.
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8. Kim Ji Wook
South Korea’s Kim Ji Wook took the internet by storm with his diving skills and good looks.
Diving alongside Kim Su-ji, Ji Wook took part in the 3m springboard synchronised mixed diving competition. Although they did not rank, both have plans to return to the world stage in the next Olympics.
9. Tomoa Narasaki
Japan’s top rock climber Tomoa Narasaki made his country proud by making it to the international stage at the Tokyo Olympics. The sport climbing is a newly-added Olympics category.