Public relax over medal tally

By Chen Heying Source:Global Times Published: 2016/8/9 0:58:39 Last Updated: 2016/8/9 7:55:36

Chinese begin to prioritize fitness over national pride

Chinese audiences have begun to prioritize the importance of national fitness and the fun of sports, instead of overtly seeking national pride from competitive sporting competitions like the Olympic Games, said experts, after the Chinese public's remarkable tolerance to their national team's gold medal drought on the opening day in Rio.

Although China had won four golds and a total of eight medals by press time on Monday, ranking second in the medals table, the first day ended without a single gold.

US shooter Virginia Thrasher managed a steady performance to bring the first gold medal of the Rio Olympic Games to Team USA, beating out the experienced former Olympic champions Du Li and Yi Siling in the women's 10-meter air rifle final on Saturday.

In swimming, Mack Horton clinched Australia's first gold of the Rio Olympics on Saturday by upsetting favored defending champion Sun Yang of China in the men's 400-meter freestyle final.

On Sunday, Chinese shooter Zhang Mengxue was the first to open the gold medal account, claiming the women's 10-meter air pistol title.

Unlike the flood of criticism that bombarded former Olympic champion gymnast Li Ning, who failed to win any medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics after winning six medals in the 1984 Los Angeles Games, the Chinese people offered their consolation and encouragement to the defeated at the Rio Games.

"You [Sun Yang] won a silver medal for the country. It's not a pity that China lost the first gold medal … we're proud of your efforts," Sina Weibo user MCchocolate commented.

As China has grown from a backward country to become the world's second-largest economy, its people no longer need to use sporting prowess as a means to boost national confidence, He Wenyi, executive director of the China Institute for Sports Value under Peking University, told the Global Times.

A gold medal at the Games is not as lustrous as before for the Chinese people after Beijing hosted the 2008 Olympic Games at which the team won more gold medals than any other, He said.

A post titled "when we are not obsessed with gold medals anymore" by News Channel from China Central Television had been reposted over 11,000 times and received some 60,000 likes as of press time.

Xiao Huanyu, dean of the School of Sports and Humanities at the Shanghai University of Sports, added that audiences have been shifting from gold-generating but less popular sports such as weight lifting, to the national team's performance in swimming and athletics, which showcase the physical stamina of Chinese, as well as the "three big balls" - football, basketball and volleyball.

The stress on physical strength will also help authorities promote the "sports for all" plan which aims to give people a chance to participate in a variety of sports events across the country, he told the Global Times.

Fighting for glory

The athletes themselves also seem more forgiving over what some years ago may have seemed like failure if their performances did not live up to the nation's great expectations.

Fu Yuanhui, placing third in the women's 100-meter backstroke semifinal on Monday, won over the crowds on social media after her goofy expression and pleased response to achieving her personal best in the event. 

Asked by reporters if she was holding back for the final, she replied that she had done her utmost, adding "No, I'm already very satisfied [with my performance]."

Such a candid response was unimaginable for a Chinese Olympian years ago, when they were supposed to speak with one voice to the media about their desire to sacrifice everything to fight for their country's glory.

"The athletes who came up in the past three decades shouldered more responsibilities - they had to be the best, or they wouldn't have a secure job arranged by the government and no decent income, in addition to their duty to win honor for the country," Xiao said.

Striving to prove the superiority of socialism by receiving more gold medals than Western countries in the 1950s, the Chinese government followed the former Soviet Union in setting up a system of official training for youngsters who showed talent, sending them to specialized sports schools where academic subjects took a back seat.

This national system was established after a complete fiasco at the Helsinki Games in 1952 when the small team arrived late, Xiao recalled.

The emphasis on sports to the detriment of academic education discouraged many parents from sending their children to sports schools, resulting in a shrinking pool of sporting talent, he noted. Although the present training scheme is still sports school-based, sports authorities are likely to be forced to reform - shutting down those schools while choosing amateurs who study in ordinary schools and universities, Xiao said.

The Chinese government issued National Fitness Regulations in 2009, the first comprehensive set of administrative regulations focusing on the development of a national fitness program.

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