The sport of cross-country skiing has not, exactly, become a sensation in China during the Winter Olympic Games.
In spite of the country’s massive investment in training cross-country skiers and biathletes, none has cracked the top 10 in Beijing, and Chinese journalists complain that athletes have dodged them after races.
What has gone viral in China, however, is a Swedish cross-country skier’s snacking habits. Jens Burman, 27, has racked up more than a half-million views on the Chinese social video platform Bilibili.
“I thought, ‘This must be a joke. What’s going on?’ But it was true,” said Tomas Pettersson, the veteran cross-country ski columnist who dubbed the phenomenon “Burmania.”
Burman is a “cool, relaxed guy” from the typically staid northern Sweden, said Petterson, and he’s been publishing an increasingly popular video blog — though it’s not quite as popular as the one run by Norwegian superstar Johannes Høsflot Klæbo.
Upon arrival in Beijing, Burman posted an innocuous-seeming, 13-minute video about a day in his life at the Olympic Village. It included a segment where he availed himself of some of the local Chinese cuisine — snacks, to be specific.
First was the oddly-branded “Powers Easy for Life,” which came in an extra-inflated bag that Burman, in English subtitles, described as “stone hard.”
The review: “I thought it would be crisps. But hard to explain…A mix of cheese doodles and corn biscuits.”
Next was the strawberry Swiss roll: “juicy,” and “just like a Swedish roll cake.” Last came the Panpan-waffles, which were not “like the waffles I’m used to.”
“More like a sponge cake, but not as sweet,” he said. “Nothing special.”
After Burman published the video, he said, he started hearing from people on Instagram that it had “millions of views” on a Chinese platform.
“I didn’t understand,” Burman said in an interview after placing eighth in his race Friday. “But then I got a link, and I saw that my video was big on the Chinese version of YouTube.”
Petersson, the columnist, said he wasn’t sure exactly where the video appeared. But a non-exhaustive search by FasterSkier/the Daily News, with the help of a few Chinese volunteers, turned up the minute-and-a-half long snack tasting clip on Bilibili, with nearly 500,000 views.
Among the hundreds of commenters was one who fretted Burman could gain weight by the end of the Olympics. Another suggested an alternative career as a food blogger. Another wanted to take Burman out for spicy noodles.
In the end, Burman said, the virality may not amount to much, since most viewers caught it on Bilibili instead of Burman’s channel on YouTube.
But, he said, “it’s fun they actually saw my video.”
Nat Herz is an Anchorage Daily News reporter who’s covering the Olympics for the ADN and FasterSkier.com. He also reported on-site from Games in 2014 in Russia, and 2010 in Vancouver. During the Olympics, he’s regularly contributing to the Devon Kershaw cross-country skiing podcast. Listen here.