The Chinese state media on Sunday focused on the ethnicity of athlete Choeyang Kyi as the first ethnic Tibetan to win an Olympic medal and hailed her as an example of the community making rapid progress in sports.
She won the bronze medal in the 20-km race walk event on Saturday.
The state-run Xinhua in a long article on the athlete referred to her in her Tibetan name Choeyang and not in the Chinese version of her name, Qieyang Shenjie.
It also didn’t forget to mention the money Choeyang got from the government after she earned her Olympic qualification in March; “she received gave a RMB 50,000 (7,874 US dollars) subsidy to her impoverished family. She was also given a 3,000-yuan monthly allowance for her training.”
More than 45 ethnic Tibetans have died after setting themselves on fire, protesting against the government and demanding the return to China of their spiritual leader, Dalai Lama.
The Chinese government and the media seldom react to the self-immolations; when they do, the reasons attributed to the perceived political suicides are usually family and domestic problems. Authorities here blame Dalai Lama for inciting separatism and have thrown tight rings of security in areas where ethnic Tibetans reside.
On Sunday, however, the focus was on Choeyang and her life as a village girl who made it big in the biggest arena of sport.
“She grew up herding yaks on a plateau meadow, just like many other women from rural Tibet. Singing and praying accounted for much of her spare time. And it was not until 2008 that she got the chance to watch the Olympic Games on TV for the first time.
But 22-year-old Choeyang Kyi has etched her name into history as China's first Tibetan Olympic medalist, having secured a bronze medal in the women's 20-km race walk event held on Saturday at the London Summer Olympics,” Xinhua reported.
The report added that Choeyang, meaning ‘sun’ in Tibetan, looks up to hurdler Liu Xiang as her idol.
“Liu Xiang is the model for Chinese track athletes. He has done his best and he has my full support,” the news agency quoted as her saying.
The report added that her parents sent her to the provincial sports school seven years later after she won a township-level marathon. In 2008, Choeyang was picked by coach Yuan Dejiu to concentrate on the race walk event. She joined the national race walk team two years later.
"Choeyang grew up on the plateau, which may explain her strong heart and breathing capacity, but what really makes her stand out is perseverance," Yuan said. "She takes the pain in the training and never lets up."
Choeyang was the first but she’s unlikely to be the last, Xinhua, said quoting an expert.
“But the tide has started to turn. The proficiency of Tibetans in sports like shooting, archery and track and field events has led some of them to emerge at national sports competitions.”