How ‘Goddess of Weightlifting’ Kuo Hsing-chun Won Taiwan Its First Gold in the 2020 Olympics

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Taiwan's Kuo Hsing-chun shows her gold medal after the victory ceremony of the women's 59kg weightlifting competition during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Tokyo International Forum in Tokyo on July 27, 2021. (Image: VINCENZO PINTO/AFP via Getty Images)

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Besting three Olympic records, Taiwan’s Kuo Hsing-chun fell short of topping a world record she set in 2019, but earned the Republic of China (ROC) its first gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics on Wednesday, July 27. 

Kuo, a member of Taiwan’s indigenous Amis tribe, participated in the 59-kilogram (130 lb) competition that afternoon, taking the gold with 103 kg in the snatch and 133 kg in the clean and jerk for a total of 236 kg (about 520 lb).  

The victory added to Kuo’s previous golds at the World Games, Asian Games, World Championships, and Asian Championships, and brought Taiwan into the international spotlight at a time when tensions with mainland China are at an all-time high. 

Kuo’s road to sporting success has sparked interest and inspiration, particularly among Taiwanese social media users, who shared details of her life story and character. 

From ‘lucky survival’ to ‘Goddess of Weightlifting’

Kuo Hsing-chun Taiwan Olympics Gold Medal
Taiwan’s Kuo Hsing-chun competes in the women’s 59kg weightlifting competition during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Tokyo International Forum in Tokyo on July 27, 2021. (Image: VINCENZO PINTO/AFP via Getty Images)

Kuo Hsing-chun (郭婞淳) was born underweight, with umbilical cord encirclement and fetal malposition. It took her mother more than 10 hours to give birth to her. Her name, Hsing-chun, is a close homophone for a word that means “lucky survival.”

Hsing-chun’s father abandoned the family after she was born, while her mother worked in another city for a long time. So Hsing-chun was brought up by her grandmother.

The family’s economic circumstances were very difficult. They could not afford to pay the mortgage, so had to move out of their home and stay at a relative’s place. They couldn’t even afford breakfast.

But these experiences and pressures made Hsing-chun develop strong logic and foresight. At first, she practiced track and field, and cried in the bathroom when she dropped the baton in a relay race. The next day, she was asked by the weightlifting coach to participate in the weightlifting competition. 

Despite having no experience in weightlifting, Hsing-chun won first place. She had found her new focus. 

In order to support her family, Hsing-chun dedicated herself to the sport. By high school, she managed to receive athletic scholarships and prizes, which was enough to cover her own tuition fee and bring her family an income. 

An injury she sustained while training for the 2014 Asian Games did not deter her. Seventy percent of her right thigh muscle was damaged when a weight fell on her leg. However, with the help of her coach, doctors and team, she recovered from the mishap. 

‘Life is not just about winning races, it’s about helping others to win together’

Winning the medal earned Kuo 23,000,000 Taiwan dollars, or nearly US$850,000. Aside from using part of it to help her family, she told the media that she would dedicate the funds to charity groups. 

Taiwanese netizens found the statement in line with Kuo’s motto: “life is not just about winning races, it’s about helping others to win together.” 

As a member of the Amis tribe, Kuo accompanied fellow Amis singer Afalean Lu to the Golden Melody Awards red carpet in 2020. Both dressed in traditional indigenous costumes. 

While dubbed the “Goddess of Weightlifting,” Hsing-chun has other interests. She is an avid piano player, which she says helps her relieve stress. She has also determined to read more, which will help her express herself better.

Chinese-speaking netizens in both Taiwan and the mainland have also commented on the contrast between Kuo and the typical female athletes produced by the Chinese Communist Party’s effort to dominate sports. Despite her strength, Kuo maintains her femininity, something often lost among mainland Chinese female athletes. 

Chen Qingchen (R) reacts between points in her women’s doubles badminton group stage match with Jia Yifan during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games on July 27, 2021. Chen had been widely blasted for repeatedly yelling the Chinese equivalent of the “F word” during her match. (Image: Alexander NEMENOV/Getty Images)

These athletes are typically given steroids and hormones from a young age, making them artificially strong enough to win medals and yet pass drug screening. However, this comes at a cost, making them look and even act androgynous in comparison to their counterparts from Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Some of them even become infertile. One wonders if their victories bring benefit or pride to anyone other than the Communist Party. 

As one Chinese Twitter user put it, “they don’t derive satisfaction from the sport, they just serve as propaganda tools.”

By Nigella Hao.