A Chinese Olympic skier has reportedly ‘disappeared’ after finishing 43rd in her competition debut.
Dinigeer Yilamujiang became an overnight sensation within China after she carried the Olympic torch during the opening ceremony on 4 February.
The 20-year-old is a Uyghur athlete from the Altay Prefecture in Northern Xinjiang, which has caused Western protest groups to suggest her presence as the face of China’s Olympic Games is intentionally ‘political’.
The region of Xinjiang has been subject to ongoing controversy among activists and the UN, as reports suggest at least one million Muslims have been detained in camps and have been subject to torture, forced labour and sterilisation.
The decision to pair Yilamujiang with Zhao Jiawen for the Olympic opening ceremony, who is a member of China’s Han majority, has been interpreted as sending a ‘political message’ to concerned human rights groups overseas.
Prior to her race on Saturday (5 February), Yilamujiang was touted as an overnight celebrity in China, as state-run media published videos on social media of her family back home in Xinjiang.
However, after competitors left her in the dust in the 43rd place during the cross-country skiathon, the athlete seemingly vanished from the limelight.
Yilamujiang slipped away after the event alongside three other Chinese athletes through a ‘mixed zone’, which allows athletes to pass through without having to answer questions from the media.
Her Olympic debut has barely been mentioned in Chinese media since.
Despite Yilamujiang evading the press after her race, China’s state-run broadcaster ran an exclusive interview with her, in which she said, as per the Wall Street Journal: “Since the country gave me such an important mission, I had to fulfill it.”
However, the broadcast was reportedly taped prior to her race.
In a video posted by the Communist Party-run Xinjiang Daily, Yilamujiang’s mother praised Beijing: “Thanks to the country for giving my daughter such an important mission.”
Yilamujiang also featured in her own article, as she was quoted saying: “China has done everything it can for me, and what is left for me to do now is to train hard and bring glory to the country.”
The piece emphasised her childhood talent which was taught by her father, who is a decorated skier himself.
Yilamujiang’s apparent disappearance is reminiscent of Peng Shuai, a Chinese tennis player who went missing late last year.
Peng Shuai alleged she was 'forced' into sexual relations with a top Chinese official in a social media post that was later taken down.
A week of silence followed, before an email was released seemingly written by Shuai herself that ensured the public she was safe and well, and that the allegations were ‘not true’.