Yang Yung Wei: How Chinese Taipei's first-ever judo Olympic medallist became a social media star

The 24-year-old judoka saw his popularity skyrocket after winning silver at Tokyo 2020. Find out how he's dealing with the pressure of being world number one in the extra lightweight class.

By Alessandro Poggi and Meng Lingcheng

Winning an Olympic medal can transform you into an instant social media celebrity, especially if nobody from your country had done it before in your sport.

That's definitely what happened to Chinese Taipei's judoka Yang Yung Wei after claiming silver in the -60kg event at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics in 2021.

Last summer, the 24-year-old even uninstalled all social media applications from his phone to avoid distractions and focus on the biggest tournament of his career.

But when he became his country's first-ever judo Olympic medallist, Yang's popularity back home skyrocketed and his followers on Instagram rose from just 7,000 to almost 400,000.

You can imagine his surprise when he was back on social media for the first time: "When I opened it (Instagram) again, I suddenly noticed my phone was burning and it nearly died (from receiving so many notifications)," the judo sensation told Yahoo Sports.

But despite the sudden popularity, Yang hasn't sat on his laurels and ended 2021 as world number one in the extra lightweight class after topping the podium in November at the prestigious Grand Slam in Abu Dhabi, his first title in the IJF World Tour.

From the importance of his family to his goal of developing the sport in his nation, find out more about one of judo's most exciting talents.

Yang Yung Wei won silver for Chinese Taipei in the men's -60kg judo competition at Tokyo 2020
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Yang Yung Wei: A family bond in judo and beyond

Yang and his two siblings got in touch with judo thanks to their mother, who practised the sport when she was young.

Motivated by the achievements and daily training of his elder brother Jun Ting, Yung Wei started his judo journey in third grade of primary school and had been dreaming of winning Olympic gold since his early age, he admitted to local media.

Judo soon became more than a passion for the teenage judoka, who hoped to help his family and improve their economical situation by achieving results in the sport.

'Family is the most important thing' was the motto that Yang's parents kept repeating to their children as they both worked hard to keep their judo dream alive.

When it became clear that Yung Wei had the best chances to make a living out of his talent, his brother Jun Ting gave up his career to coach him.

"I need to say sorry to my brother because he has sacrificed a lot to accompany me to chase my Olympic dream. Everyone has something great within, his greatness was his sacrificing spirit," Yang confessed as tears welled up in his eyes during the same interview.

Yang Yung Wei: Embracing responsibilities like Spiderman

After making history at the Nippon Budokan in July 2021, Yang saw his fame increase exponentially, and so did his commitments off the tatami.

"At first, there was no way I could avoid these things (social activities)," he told Yahoo Sports.

"But as Spiderman said: 'With great power comes great responsibility'. When everyone knows you, it's your time to take responsibility. I want to promote judo and bring the spirit of the sport to everyone. I think getting through this and adapting to it, it is a necessary process. Athletes from other countries also face the same problems. They can solve them, so will I."

Despite the potential distractions, the 24-year-old hasn't changed his attitude on the mat:

"You should focus on yourself in preparing for the competition because it will be you facing your opponents in an event, not those people," he said.

"During the training, I have to be myself. I need to know where I and my ability stand. In this regard, I will not pay too much attention to the voice of the outside world. I just need to be myself and continue to work hard on the mat. This was my original intention since the beginning. At the end of the day, I’m just an athlete."

Solid principles and a strong work ethic are behind Yang's success in judo

"I have set a high standard for myself every day, I set a daily goal. If today I have not achieved the goal, I will pay extra effort to achieve it on the same day, this is my way."

Yang Yung Wi on the red carpet at the 32nd Golden Melody Awards Ceremony Press Room at Taipei Music Center.
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Yang Yung Wei: Promoting judo in my country

Weightlifting, taekwondo and archery, along with badminton, table tennis and baseball are the most popular sports in the island of Taiwan.

Yang's goal is to add judo to this list as he hopes his story can inspire more young athletes from his homeland.

"I would like to share my skills and experience," he said.

"To me, it’s also a process of reflecting and examining myself. People are forgetful, so sharing my story and experience can not only inspire young guys to chase their dream, but also remind me on how I dealt with things in the past."

"If my experience could contribute a little bit as motivation and inspiration to them, help them in any way, I would be satisfied," - Yang Yung Wei

The Tokyo 2020 silver medallist has big dreams for the home development of the sport:

"The spirit of judo teaches us to make good use of our ability and get better together. I hope some day all the judokas of Chinese Taipei could fight together for a medal and even win one in the new Olympic mixed team event, making the judo of Chinese Taipei known worldwide."

Yang Yung Wei: Starting from zero after Tokyo 2020

Being the world number one in his category hasn't shifted the focus of the Chinese Taipei judo star, who's keeping his feet on the ground.

"You can be beaten by an athlete who has a lower ranking than you of a sudden, so I don’t care too much about the World No.1 title," Yang said.

"To me, shaking off these titles is the most important thing. I said to myself after winning the silver medal in Tokyo that if I want to go further and achieve higher goals, I have to forget about these, starting from zero."

"Winning the gold medal in the World Championships and Olympic Games is my biggest aim at this moment, the future will be super challenging and I have to get prepared for that mentally and physically." - Yang Yung Wei

The Ne-Waza specialist is aware that now more rivals will try to study his weaknesses, but that - he believes - won't add any pressure on his shoulders: "I think this is also a way to motivate myself, which will make me pay more attention to what I need to make up in training," he said during a commercial event before flying to Europe.

In Tokyo the 24-year-old was narrowly defeated in the gold medal match by home favourite Takato Naohisa, who appreciated his fighting spirit and held his hand up as a gesture of sportsmanship.

Takato is one of the Olympic champions taking part in the All Japan national championships from 3-4 April.

"I hope to see which athletes they might send to the next Asian Games and World Championships by watching that competition. They are all likely to be my opponents in future competitions, even in the Paris 2024 Olympic Games."

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