China’s nationalised Olympic team: the personal cost of winning and losing

2 min read
Chinese Team at the 2012 Olympics

China HAO Yun, LI Yunqi, JIANG Haiqi, SUN Yang (Gold medal) 4x200m Freestyle Relay Men Podium London 2012 Olympics - Olimpiadi Londra 2012 day 05 July 31 Photo G.Scala/

While David Cameron promised to turn Olympics into gold for the British, the Chinese athletes vowed to bring back gold. Unlike Mr Cameron, who keeps surprising his tax payers with an increasing Olympics budget, the Chinese athletes are keeping their words, at great expenses.

The Chinese take Olympic medals seriously. Ever since the Chinese Olympic Team, consisting of 621 athletes and coaches, arrived in London, predictions of who would win how many gold medals occupied Chinese media. Most websites have put forward the ranking of countries according to the number of gold medals obtained by their athletes, and Chinese people want to see their country on top.

Therefore paramount pressure is put on the athletes.  Medals winners are loved by the entire country, their family members are invited to dinner parties with the local authority, during which they are crowned as the “mother/ father of a national hero”.

By contrast are those who fail to win the medal. On July 29, Chinese athlete Wu Jingbiao had an emotional breakdown after he failed to win a gold medal in the men,s 56 kg weightlifting. In front of the TV camera he cried like a girl, bowing to apologise while saying that he has “failed the state” even though he did win a silver medal (see video below).

Li Na, a Chinese tennis player, was condemned by the Xinhua News, a state news agency, for being “sluggish”, showing “lack of passion” and being “unprofessional” after  losing to Slovakia`s Daniela Hantuchova. Subsequent commentaries online criticised her of being arrogant; some even related her loss to treason.

The cost of losing a game is dear, and the cost of winning is even higher. Wu Min XiaChina’s world champion was only to find out that her mother had battled cancer for eight years, and her grandparents had both died a few years ago, after she had won the women’s synchronised 3m springboard gold at the Aquatics Centre.

When being interviewed, the mother, who looked weary and freakish because of the chemotherapy, proudly told the press that she had kept the news from her daughter for the fear that she might be distracted from training.

There is more evidence to show that the Olympics has been nationalised into the fuel of patriotic sentiment. Young talents are forced to specialise at a very early age, athletes are pumped with steroids.

Many of the world champions have a hard life after retirement, because they were deprived of normal education for so long.  But none of these matters concern the government, who need the Olympic gold medal ranking to cheer up the crowds, distracting them from series of domestic and international problems. Their tactics are working this time.

Tony Simon

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