“Ai-chan’ attracts fans with winning style, personality”
RIO DE JANEIRO – Ai Fukuhara will have the support of a nation when Japan takes on Singapore for the women’s table tennis team bronze medal at the Rio Olympics on Tuesday — plus a Chinese public that has taken the 27-year-old to its heart.
Japan faces Singapore having missed out on the chance to square off for the gold medal against No. 1-ranked China, where Fukuhara enjoys superstar status and a massive following on local social media.
Fukuhara, who is fluent in Mandarin and has 340,000 followers on her Weibo micro-blogging account, trained with the Chinese national team as a teenager and still has a Chinese coach.
The four-time Olympian’s doll-cute looks and friendly personality have won her legions of fans among Chinese men and women, and local reporters at the Rio Olympics expect them to show their support on Tuesday.
“She’s very humorous,” said Fei Sun, a sports reporter from the Quingdao Daily. “She often appears on social media. She posts videos of her speaking Chinese because her Chinese is so good. She speaks Chinese as good as Chinese people.
“She’s popular with young people, and maybe a lot of males like her because she’s very cute. She’s beautiful.”
Unfortunately for China’s single men, Fukuhara, who is known as “Fu Yuan Ai” in China, is already taken. Her boyfriend, Chiang Hung-chieh, is also in Rio playing for the Taiwanese national table tennis team.
“Chiang Hung-chieh is famous now because of Ai Fukuhara,” said Wang. “Ai is very popular. I think Fukuhara is one of the most popular Japanese in China, not just Japanese athletes.”