Who is China’s greatest Olympian?

Yang Wei
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China largely didn’t compete at the Olympics before 1980, but it didn’t take long to become a medal power. The Chinese finished second to the U.S. in total medals at the last three Summer Games and had the most golds in Beijing in 2008. China has been consistent at recent Winter Games, earning an average of 10 medals over the last two decades and building enough of a reputation to earn hosting rights in 2022. Here are five of the nation’s greatest Olympians …

Fu Mingxia
Diving
Four Olympic gold medals

A world champion at age 12. An Olympic champion at age 13. Fu was the dominant female diver of the 1990s, sweeping the springboard and platform at the 1996 Atlanta Games and winning one more of each between 1992 and 2000. China has become the dominant diving nation, though still with half the total Olympic medals of the U.S. in the sport. The Chinese boast other legends, such as Guo Jingjing, Chen Ruolin and Xiong Ni, but none combined the versatility and length of dominance quite like Fu. She retired for the first time at age 18, believing she was too old for the sport, and again after her last Olympics at 22.

Lin Dan
Badminton
Two Olympic gold medals

China owns twice as many medals as any other nation in badminton, which debuted at the 1992 Barcelona Games. Ten badminton players share the record of two gold medals. Nine of them are Chinese. Two of them earned two individual golds — Lin and Zhang Ning. The tiebreaker goes to Lin for his five individual world titles to Zhang’s one. “Super Dan,” who competed at the last four Olympics, won the sport’s Super Grand Slam, capturing its nine major titles. Lin’s fame: In 2015, he was the second athlete on Forbes China‘s most popular celebrities list behind tennis player Li Na. He had his own wax figure at Madame Tussauds in Shanghai. Lin’s outbursts on and off the court led to some calling him the John McEnroe of badminton.

Wang Meng
Short Track Speed Skating
Four Olympic gold medals

Also known for volatility. Wang is the lone Winter Olympian on this list and owns the national records for Winter Games medals (six) and golds (four). Wang competed in all four short track events at both the 2006 and 2010 Olympics, won half of them and earned medals in five of the six individual events. She would have been favored for more gold in 2014 but fractured an ankle three weeks before the Winter Games and never competed at another major championships. Wang was known for her unbeatable sprint speed and off-ice incidents. She was once suspended 13 months after reportedly, drunkenly punching a team manager who had chided her for breaking curfew.

Deng Yaping
Table Tennis
Four Olympic gold medals

Nowhere is China’s all-time Olympic dominance more evident than table tennis. Chinese won 28 of 32 gold medals and nearly three times as many total medals as any other nation. Deng, 4 feet, 11 inches, 115 pounds and dubbed “The Ping Pong Queen,” swept singles and doubles gold medals in 1992 and 1996. She was ranked No. 1 in the world from 1990-97 after initially being left off the national team for being so short.

Yang Wei
Gymnastics
Three Olympic gold medals

China has plenty of gymnastics greats, including Li Ning and Li Xiaoshuang, but Yang is the only one to earn Olympic all-around and team golds. He was the nation’s best gymnast at three Olympics — 2000, 2004 and 2008 — and, at his last Olympics in Beijing, dominated the all-around to win by 2.6 points. It remains a modern-era record for an Olympic men’s or women’s all-around margin of victory.

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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Elena Fanchini, medal-winning Alpine skier, dies at 37

Elena Fanchini
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Italian skier Elena Fanchini, whose career was cut short by a tumor, has died. She was 37.

Fanchini passed away Wednesday at her home in Solato, near Brescia, the Italian Winter Sports Federation announced.

Fanchini died on the same day that fellow Italian Marta Bassino won the super-G at the world championships in Meribel, France; and two days after Federica Brignone — another former teammate — claimed gold in combined.

Sofia Goggia, who is the favorite for Saturday’s downhill, dedicated her win in Cortina d’Ampezzo last month to Fanchini.

Fanchini last raced in December 2017. She was cleared to return to train nearly a year later but never made it fully back, and her condition grew worse in recent months.

Fanchini won a silver medal in downhill at the 2005 World Championships and also won two World Cup races in her career — both in downhill.

She missed the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics because of her condition.

Fanchini’s younger sisters Nadia and Sabrina were also World Cup racers.

USA Boxing to skip world championships

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USA Boxing will not send boxers to this year’s men’s and women’s world championships, citing “the ongoing failures” of the IBA, the sport’s international governing body, that put boxing’s place on the Olympic program at risk.

The Washington Post first reported the decision.

In a letter to its members, USA Boxing Executive Director Mike McAtee listed many factors that led to the decision, including IBA governance issues, financial irregularities and transparency and that Russian and Belarusian boxers are allowed to compete with their flags.

IBA lifted its ban on Russian and Belarusian boxers in October and said it would allow their flags and anthems to return, too.

The IOC has not shifted from its recommendation to international sports federations last February that Russian and Belarusian athletes be barred, though the IOC and Olympic sports officials have been exploring whether those athletes could return without national symbols.

USA Boxing said that Russian boxers have competed at an IBA event in Morocco this month with their flags and are expected to compete at this year’s world championships under their flags.

“While sport is intended to be politically neutral, many boxers, coaches and other representatives of the Ukrainian boxing community were killed as a result of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, including coach Mykhaylo Korenovsky who was killed when a Russian missile hit an apartment block in January 2023,” according to the USA Boxing letter. “Ukraine’s sports infrastructure, including numerous boxing gyms, has been devastated by Russian aggression.”

McAtee added later that USA Boxing would still not send athletes to worlds even if Russians and Belarusians were competing as neutrals and without their flags.

“USA Boxing’s decision is based on the ‘totality of all of the factors,'” he said in an emailed response. “Third party oversite and fairness in the field of play is the most important factor.”

A message has been sent to the IBA seeking comment on USA Boxing’s decision.

The women’s world championships are in March in India. The men’s world championships are in May in Uzbekistan. They do not count toward 2024 Olympic qualifying.

In December, the IOC said recent IBA decisions could lead to “the cancellation of boxing” for the 2024 Paris Games.

Some of the already reported governance issues led to the IOC stripping IBA — then known as AIBA — of its Olympic recognition in 2019. AIBA had suspended all 36 referees and judges used at the 2016 Rio Olympics pending an investigation into a possible judging scandal, one that found that some medal bouts were fixed by “complicit and compliant” referees and judges.

The IOC ran the Tokyo Olympic boxing competition.

Boxing was not included on the initial program for the 2028 Los Angeles Games announced in December 2021, though it could still be added. The IBA must address concerns “around its governance, its financial transparency and sustainability and the integrity of its refereeing and judging processes,” IOC President Thomas Bach said then.

This past June, the IOC said IBA would not run qualifying competitions for the 2024 Paris Games.

In September, the IOC said it was “extremely concerned” about the Olympic future of boxing after an IBA extraordinary congress overwhelmingly backed Russian Umar Kremlev to remain as its president rather than hold an election.

Kremlev was re-elected in May after an opponent, Boris van der Vorst of the Netherlands, was barred from running against him. The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled in June that van der Vorst should have been eligible to run against Kremlev, but the IBA group still decided not to hold a new election.

Last May, Rashida Ellis became the first U.S. woman to win a world boxing title at an Olympic weight since Claressa Shields in 2016, taking the 60kg lightweight crown in Istanbul. In Tokyo, Ellis lost 3-0 in her opening bout in her Olympic debut.

At the last men’s worlds in 2021, Robby Gonzales and Jahmal Harvey became the first U.S. men to win an Olympic or world title since 2007, ending the longest American men’s drought since World War II.

The Associated Press and NBC Olympic research contributed to this report.

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