Los Angeles-born figure skater Zhu Yi sparks controversy at Winter Olympics

Zhu Yi of China reacts in the women's team free skate program during the figure skating competition
Zhu Yi of China reacts in the women’s team free skate program Monday during the figure skating competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics.
(David J. Phillip / Associated Press)
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Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Tuesday, Feb. 8. I’m Justin Ray. Oh, by the way, I’ll be taking the rest of the week off. I’ll be in Palm Springs. My colleagues will be filling in for me for the rest of the week.

It’s no secret that being an athlete who competes for team China poses challenges.

Tennis fans have been following Peng Shuai’s case ever since she made sexual assault allegations against a former high-ranking member of China’s ruling Communist Party. Now, another athlete representing the country, who has ties to Southern California, is in the spotlight.

Los Angeles-born figure skater Zhu Yi has been trending on social media following her first appearances at the Winter Olympics.


It all began on Sunday when the 19-year-old fell during the women’s short program. The hashtag #ZhuYiFellDown had been viewed more than 200 million times by that afternoon on Twitter-like Chinese social media platform Weibo, The New York Times reported. Weibo stepped in by Sunday evening to ban the hashtag.

“I’m upset and a little embarrassed,” a tearful Zhu said after skating to The Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black,” according to Reuters. “I guess I felt a lot of pressure because I know everybody in China was pretty surprised with the selection for ladies’ singles, and I just really wanted to show them what I was able to do, but unfortunately I didn’t.”

However, criticism only increased Monday after Zhu fell twice during her free skate and placed last. She broke out in tears before she completed the routine.

“I was very emotional during the routine and wanted to cry. I couldn’t hold it back, and the tears came flowing,” she said after her program, according to the South China Morning Post.

The controversy around naturalized athletes

Even before she touched the ice at the Olympics, Zhu had faced criticism.

She was born in Westwood to a Chinese immigrant family, according to CNN. She decided to compete for China in 2018, renouncing her American citizenship, the South China Morning Post reported. She also changed her name from Beverly Zhu to Zhu Yi.

She has been criticized online for her perceived inability to speak fluent Chinese, The New York Times reported. Social media users also pointed out that she was chosen over other skaters who were native-born. The whole debacle highlights the debate over naturalized athletes, and what it means to represent a country.


Some on social media have claimed, without any evidence, that she managed to land a spot on the Chinese Olympics team due to her father, Song-Chun Zhu, The New York Times reported. He is a computer scientist who moved from UCLA to Peking University in Beijing.

It isn’t uncommon for foreign-born athletes to get scouted by countries who hope prospective athletes will grab medals for them. Sometimes this requires an athlete to switch their citizenship

Next week, Zhu is set to take to the ice again in the women’s singles skating program.

You can follow figure skating developments live here.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

With the Omicron coronavirus surge rapidly receding, California will lift its universal mask mandate for indoor public places next week, state officials announced Monday. This move doesn’t mean face coverings will be a thing of the past; they still will be required indoors for unvaccinated residents and for everyone in select settings, such as nursing homes or while aboard public transit. Los Angeles Times

Customers shop for disposable masks at the Chinese New Year Flower Market Fair in Chinatown in San Francisco
Customers shop for disposable masks at the Chinese New Year Flower Market Fair in San Francisco’s Chinatown last month.
(Liu Guanguan/Getty Images)

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A cold case heats up after three decades. But the DNA delivers a surprise. The murder of Claire Penelope Hough was the kind of mystery that keeps homicide detectives awake at night, pulling at loose threads. For almost 30 years, they’d tugged and tugged and couldn’t unravel it. Part of their persistence was due to the savagery of the attack at Torrey Pines State Beach. But one day, thanks to advances in science, blood spots on Hough’s jeans revealed a suspect. But there was a complication. Los Angeles Times

Claire Hough and a portion of her autopsy report.
(Cristina Byvik / San Diego Union-Tribune)


How Jose Huizar’s lavish Las Vegas trips set off alarms for FBI in L.A. bribe case. Security for The Palazzo learned one day in July 2015 that a billionaire developer was bringing Los Angeles politician Jose Huizar to Las Vegas on the resort’s luxury Gulfstream IV. Palazzo dealers kept close watch on Wei Huang and Huizar when they arrived in Parlor 8, a room for high rollers who typically bet with $25,000 and $100,000 chips. What they discovered triggered an FBI investigation that brought to light a sprawling corruption scandal at Los Angeles City Hall. Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar addresses fellow council members.
(Al Seib/Los Angeles Times)

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Vice President Kamala Harris is hoping to find more stability. Harris holds an amorphous job and has taken on intractable assignments such as record-setting migration from Central America and Republican efforts to restrict voting. However, she is hoping to turn things around ahead of November’s midterm elections by getting out of Washington to champion the Biden administration’s accomplishments. Los Angeles Times


Mayor Eric Garcetti’s onetime chief spokeswoman has filed a complaint with local, state and federal prosecutors, demanding that he be prosecuted for perjury for repeatedly denying that he knew about another former aide’s alleged sexual misconduct. Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti gives his annual State of the City speech in Los Angeles on April 19, 2020.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti gives his annual State of the City speech in Los Angeles on April 19, 2020.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)

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A Silicon Valley energy company crafted a controversial, last-minute gas ban exemption it benefited from with help from the San Jose mayor’s office, Tran Nguyen reported. Bloom Energy, whose Vice President Carl Guardino is a personal friend of Mayor Sam Liccardo, sent at least three emails to Liccardo’s office to hash out the policy language. Environmental advocacy groups are dismayed. “This was an administrative overstep on our part and we are taking steps to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” said Liccardo’s spokesperson Rachel Davis. San Jose Spotlight

San Francisco planned to compel more people into drug and mental health treatment. So far, only two have been helped. In 2019, the city identified about 4,000 unhoused people who also struggled with addiction and mental illness. This count took place shortly after the city opted into a controversial state law that let it create a pilot program to expand eligibility for those who can be placed into conservatorship, which allows a court to order people into mental health treatment. Only two people have been treated by the expanded rules so far. “Unfortunately, the city has been incredibly slow,” said state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco. San Francisco Chronicle


Rockstar Energy teamed up with L.A. TACO to give five new street-legal food carts to five entrepreneurs in the city who need them. “Rockstar Energy’s purpose is to champion and fuel the hustle, which is why it spent weeks searching for vendors who could most benefit from instant certification,” the news outlet wrote in a post about the partnership. The new carts came from Revolution Carts, a company that developed a line of legal carts specifically for sidewalk vendors. LA TACO


You have probably heard all about the Joe Rogan-Spotify drama. Well, I want to elevate an important podcast segment about it. Science VS is a podcast that looks into conversations happening in society and separates fact from fiction. Also exclusively on Spotify, the podcast’s makers recently announced they will not be releasing new episodes, save for those “intended to counteract misinformation being spread on Spotify.” This episode does a fantastic job in highlighting the fundamental problems with an interview that Rogan ⁠ — who used to have a recording studio in California⁠ — released that caused a lot of uproar. Gimlet Media

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Los Angeles: Sunny, 80 San Diego: Overcast, 74 San Francisco: Sunny 65 San Jose: Sunny 72 Fresno: Sunny 71 Sacramento: Sunny 70. I’ve watched this a million times.


Today’s California memory is from Lisa Leknovich Nault:

I met one of my lifelong friends when I was working at a “used clothing” store in Hermosa Beach, before we called them “vintage.” She and I clicked right away. She always examined every item closely and had a very distinct eye for patterns. Hiro and I became close friends back in 1987, and one of my most cherished memories, of which there have been many, was our sky-diving trips. We always talked about and dreamed of sky-diving. Our first trip, I took the day off, and we drove to Perris, Calif. It was incredible. The only way I can articulate it is that it felt like heaven. Driving home, I recall in addition to the euphoria, having mochi shoved into my mouth and just kind of trying to chew it and saying “Ummm...” and then spitting it out. Years later, Hiro and I brought my husband Peter, now dearly departed. I hope he saw heaven too. Love you Hiro!!!

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

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