Chinese athletes relieved of unfair expectations

By Wang Wenwen Source:Global Times Published: 2016/8/13 0:13:39

Illustration: Peter C. Espina/GT

Chinese athletes at the Olympic Games used to be famous for their dedication to medals, and the burdensome obsession of the country and its fellowmen with the Olympic glory.

But things are changing, particularly so in this year's Rio Olympic Games. When the 20-year-old swimmer Fu Yuanhui ranked third in the semi-finals of the women 100-meter backstroke on Sunday, which meant she would participate in the finals two days later, netizens did not focus on her excellent performance, but the simple and unpretentious interview she gave afterward.

Upon hearing her result, Fu cried out with surprise and delight, "Wow! I was so fast! I am very happy!" Asked if she could get better results, she said she was not "holding back" and had used all of her "mystic energy," a lovely and original phrase. And when asked if she held high expectations for the finals, she gave an innocent answer, "Not at all! I am already very pleased!"

Yet in previous Olympic Games, Chinese athletes were expected to behave in a humble manner, saying that their performance was not satisfactory enough, that there was plenty of room to improve, and that they would try hard to grab a gold medal for the nation.

But the sweet and honest image of Fu in front of the camera means that a new understanding of the Olympics and China's role in the Games has arrived. After the semi-finals Fu became a sensation on Chinese social media, and emoticons and caricatures of her popped up straight away. Her exaggerated facial expressions have turned the swimming star into a popular meme.

Fu seems to care less about winning a gold medal than breaking her own record, which is exactly the spirit of the Olympic Games. The audience has also shown respect for the Chinese teams which bear the high expectations of the public but failed to get as many gold medals as was expected. Even though the first gold medal came later this year than in previous Games, the netizens did not accuse the sweat-pouring athletes of not winning honor for the country.

A few years ago, some athletes were not that lucky. When Liu Xiang, China's track and field superstar who shot to fame during the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, crashed to the ground at the London Games in 2012 and left the stadium in Beijing four years ago due to a similar injury to his Achilles' tendon, he was met with doubts and accusation.

In his 12 year professional career, he attended 48 world-class track and field races and won 36 championships. But in the end, he was remembered as a fallen star who had quit twice. Meanwhile, a tide of self-doubt and introspection about China's sports system and the way China viewed gold medals arose.

It was a time when a gold medal weighed heavily for the country's glory and prowess. With such a grand objective, single athletes were like drops in the waterfall. To get rid of the humiliating label of the "sick man of Asia" and stick to the Chinese style of Olympic collectivism, the athletes had to bury their heads into the sand.

Today, Chinese athletes are still trained in a cruel way. Fu said in her interview that one wouldn't imagine what she had been through over the past few months. We no longer need to focus on the number of gold medals to prove the nation's strength, but can instead applaud how much effort the athletes have paid and the true character behind them.

The author is a reporter with the Global Times. wangwenwen@globaltimes.com.cn



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