“The era of the superstar that once belonged to Chinese sports has faded.
“When will the next Lin Dan appear? Or when will the next Yao Ming, Liu Xiang and Li Na appear?
“Where is the next Chinese sports superstar who will create a collective memory for us?”
The quartet were not just world leaders in their sport and popular in China, but also had “considerable influence in the international arena and became a window for the world to understand China,” Xinhua said.
Of prominent Chinese athletes left, women’s volleyball player Zhu Ting has the potential to rise to superstar level, Xinhua said, while disgraced swimmer Sun Yang “enjoys high popularity (in China), but unfortunately he is banned”.
The 28-year-old is appealing against an eight-year ban for refusing to give a doping sample. The three-time Olympic freestyle champion’s career will effectively be over if he loses his appeal at the Swiss Federal Tribunal.
China has world champions in other sports, and finished third behind the United States and Britain in the medal table at the Rio 2016 Olympics, but they are not generally well-known even inside the country, Xinhua said.
Table tennis player Zhang Jike, another three-time Olympic gold medallist, deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Lin, said the Oriental Sports Daily.
But at 32 his best days are behind him and as far back as 2016 he signalled his intention to retire, before having a change of heart.
“When will the next Lin Dan and China’s next sports superstar appear again?” asked the newspaper.
“This question may not be answered in a short space of time.”