When it comes to sporting prowess she may not rank at the top of China’s finest, but after a Rio Olympics that made her a global social media star, it was hardly surprising that bronze medal swimmer Fu Yuanhui outshone her golden-gong teammates on day one of their three-day visit.
The cheeky 20-year-old backstroke competitor had to be on the front foot as the city’s ever hungry press pack zeroed in on her despite her trying to shun the limelight by being one of the last off the 747 jumbo that landed at Hong Kong International Airport on Saturday.
Her attempts let her more illustrious fellow athletes take centre stage continued at a press conference later in the day, but it soon became clear those in the media were having nothing of it.
Not a problem for “Funny Girl’’ Fu, who turned on the charm that captured the heart of a nation and more, and before long had all eating out of her hand.
Along with the country’s gold medal winners, the swimmer from Hangzhou in Zheijiang province was greeted warmly by an enthusiastic mixture of local sport fans and mainland tourists.
Fu said she had a more important mission to achieve than her own desire – to visit Hong Kong Disneyland – this time in town.
“We hope to come to Hong Kong to interact with the people here, so I shouldn’t just think about having fun,” she told a room of reporters, who at times enjoyed a good belly laugh at her apparently deliberate stammer and humour.
The delegation, featuring coaches and athletes clad in yellow and red suits, arrived on Air China flight CA651 from Beijing at 11.43am, beginning their highly anticipated visit, during which they will demonstrate their skills and meet fans.
The group, led by director of the State General Administration of Sports Liu Peng, received the red-carpet treatment from Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and 180 cheering primary school children waving national and Hong Kong flags.
Their subsequent arrival at the InterContinental Grand Stanford hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui was cheered by about 50 locals and mainland tourists, who chanted the names of Fu, swimmer Sun Yang and volleyball coach Lang Ping.
“It was so close [I had to come],” said Lin Yizhu, who travelled from Guangzhou to catch a glimpse of table tennis player Ma Long.
Lang, Sun, and women’s volleyball team captain Hui Ruoqi were among the few to join Liu and Timothy Fok Tsun-ting, president of the Sports Federation and Olympic Committee of Hong Kong, in the first row when the athletes lined up. Fu and badminton star Lin Dan were in the third row.
Despite that, Fu still took the most questions from a room of inquisitive journalists.
Fu, known for her funny facial expressions, also shot to fame for dropping her trademark saying, “mystical power”, into an interview during the Olympics earlier this month. She said she loved the city’s food and fun, but had never had a chance to visit owing to a busy training schedule.
Fu, who adorned her backpack with key chain, did not shy away from making dramatic facial expressions.
Noting she would have to give Disneyland a miss this time, the swimmer concluded in her trademark animated tone: “I guess I will come again by myself next time to have fun.”
The athletes were treated to a banquet dinner in Wan Chai in the evening, which featured highlights of their winning performances at the Rio Olympics.
Some of the medallists laughed and appeared excited as they saw their teammates make an appearance on screen.