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Chinese swimmer didn't know she won a medal until post-race interviewer told her

Meet Olympic swimmer Fu Yuanhui, China’s many-faced god.

Fu’s facial expressions in two brief post-race interviews made her a viral sensation in her native country, and it doesn’t take a translator to appreciate her reactions.

And it definitely doesn’t take a translator to appreciate her reaction after the women’s 100-meter backstroke when, much to her surprise, she learned she’d won a bronze medal.

Here’s the exchange:

Fu: “I used up all of my powers yesterday.”

CCTV: “Why is that? You were faster today.”

Fu: “But I am just out of energy today.”

CCTV: You were only 0.01 seconds slower than the silver medalist.

Fu: “Then I blame it on my arms being too short.”

[…]

CCTV: “Do you have any thoughts you want to share with us?”

Fu: “Even though I did not win a medal …”

CCTV: “But you got a medal. You are third.”

Fu: What? Third?! I did not know.”

That exchange was just the capper.

When Fu qualified for the 100-meter backstroke final with a third-place finish in her semifinal, she was shocked to learn she recorded a new personal best of 58.95 seconds on Monday. “I thought it was 59 seconds,” she told the CCTV reporter, according to translations. “I was so fast. I’m really pleased.”

So pleased, in fact, Fu said she was satisfied with the result and had no expectations for Tuesday’s final. Asked if she left anything in reserve, Fu explained she didn’t hold back in the semis and used all her “hong huang zhi li” — a Chinese phrase interpreted as “mystical,” “primordial” or “prehistoric powers” and roughly translates into the equivalent of The Force in the “Star Wars” franchise.

A day later, Fu captured bronze in her signature event, tying Canada’s Kylie Masse for third place in the 100 backstroke final, just 0.01 seconds off American Kathleen Baker’s silver medal time of 58.75.

But again, Fu had no clue she’d bested her semifinal time and broke an Asian record.

Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 12.35.42 PM
Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 12.35.42 PM

She looked aghast for a moment before adding, “Well, then I think that’s not bad at all.”

Nailed it. If that’s not enough, a quick Getty Images search reveals Fu is, indeed, the many-faced god.

Medalists pose on the podium during the medal ceremony for the women's 100-meter backstroke. (Getty Images)
Medalists pose during the OLYMPIC ceremony for the women’s 100-meter backstroke. (Getty Images)
 Fu Yuanhui celebrates her 50-meter backstroke win at the FINA World Championships in August 2015. (Getty Images)
Fu Yuanhui celebrates her 50-meter backstroke win at the FINA World Championships. (Getty Images)
Team China celebrates its 4x100-meter medley relay victory at the 2015 FINA World Championships. (Getty Images)
Team China celebrates its 4×100-meter medley relay win at the FINA World Championships. (Getty Images)
Team China receives its gold medals at the 2015 FINA World Championships. (Getty Images)
Team China receives its gold medals at the 2015 FINA World Championships. (Getty Images)

Despite placing third, Fu is being hailed as a national hero in China for a genuine competitive spirit that comes in stark contrast to the country’s emphasis on gold medals and traditionally stoic post-race interviews. Her reactions became the subject of fan art on Chinese social media website Weibo.

A fan on social media drew this picture of Fu Yuanhui's shock at winning a bronze medal. (Weibo)
A fan on social media drew this picture of Fu Yuanhui’s shock at winning a bronze medal. (Weibo)
“I don’t have any expectations for tomorrow because I’m so happy today.” (Weibo)
“I don’t have any expectations for tomorrow because I’m so happy today.” (Weibo)

According to The Washington Post, People’s Daily — an official Chinese Communist Party newspaper — wrote of Fu, “The warm support from netizens shows that public attitudes toward competitive sport and the Olympics have sublimated to a higher level.” In other words, as another great facial expressionist, Rocky Balboa, once said, “If I can change and you can change, everybody can change.”

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