For many athletes, winning an Olympic gold medal may be the peak of the mountain, but for some Chinese Olympic champions, winning a National Games title can be a tougher mission.
The Rio Olympics men's singles gold medalist and Tokyo Olympics silver medalist, Chen Long, representing the southeast province of Fujian at the ongoing 14th Chinese National Games, conceded a 21-11, 21-9 defeat to Shi Yuqi in the badminton semifinals on Thursday.
The 32-year-old Chen then withdrew from the bronze medal match against Sun Feixiang due to injury, ending his fifth and probably last journey at the country's premier multi-sport event.
In his previous National Games campaigns since 2005, Chen couldn't make it to the podium for the singles event. He crashed out in the quarterfinals in 2013 and 2017.
"There is always pity in life. For me, the pity of losing the Olympic final in Tokyo may be bigger," said Chen, who was beaten by Viktor Axelsen of Denmark in the men's singles final in Tokyo.
Chen's defeat on Thursday is just the latest manifestation that the competition in the National Games is sometimes more intense than that in the Olympics.
A total of 50 Olympic champions, representing China's provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions, the Hong Kong and Macao Special Administrative Regions, the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps and specific sporting associations, are contending at the quadrennial National Games, which usually are held one year after the summer Olympic Games.
Veteran shooter Pang Wei and Jiang Ranxin shot down the gold in the 10m air pistol mixed team at Tokyo 2020, but the duo that represents Hebei and Shanghai respectively didn't make it into the final at the National Games.
In her third National Games, Olympic trampoline champion Zhu Xueying didn't advance to the final either.
In the women's 49kg weightlifting competition, Hou Zhihui had to perform better than her Olympic title-winning results to prevail at the National Games.
Hou lifted a total of 214kg in Xi'an, beating her winning total at last month's Tokyo Olympics by four kilograms. It also surpassed her own world record by one kilogram.
More interestingly, Saikhom Mirabai of India, who took an Olympic silver with 202kg, would not have made the podium in China's National Games. Indonesian weightlifter Cantika Aisah's bronze medal-winning total of 194kg could only rank eighth at the Chinese National Games.
"It's so hard. Only when surpassing the world record, can you win the National Games title, which is even harder than the Olympics. Is this the secret for the strength of Chinese weightlifting?" Hou wrote on Twitter-like Weibo platform.
Spectators were invited to an eye-pleasing women's 10m platform competition between top divers in the country or even the world, as Olympic champion Quan Hongchan defended her glory after beating the likes of Chen Yuxi, Ren Qian and Zhang Jiaqi, who are also Olympic gold medalists.
"It's so hard for me to catch up with you two," Quan said to Chen and Zhang after the competition.
For the all-time leading table tennis squad, it is more difficult to predict the winner in national competitions than in international tournaments.
Two-time reigning Olympic champion Ma Long withdrew from the table tennis men's singles event at the National Games, making Fan Zhendong the title favorite, but the world No. 1 faces tough challenges from Wang Chuqin, Xu Xin and Liang Jingkun.
The table tennis women's singles competition is also wide open with Tokyo Olympic champion Chen Meng, Sun Yingsha and Wang Manyu all standing a chance for the title.
From the Olympic Games to the National Games, it's not a taken-for-granted affair when talking about the winners.