Note: The following is a translation of a post by “zl19860707” in 铁血论坛 Tiexue Forum, one of the popular online bulletin boards in China. This post was responding to the words spoken by the Chinese shooting athlete 谭宗亮 Tan Zongliang after he won the bronze in the men’s 50m pistol event on August 12. Beijing 2008 is the fourth Olympics Tan has competed in, and this bronze is the first of any kind he has received. (Tan, by the way, now officially owns a silver medal because the North Korean shooter ahead of him failed subsequent doping tests.)
Do not pressure athletes into saying sorry
Tan Zongliang said: “I feel that I have let the country down by winning only a single bronze through four Olympics.”
As soon as Tan’s words were reported, people objected, thinking it was because of aggressive reporters and demanding public opinions that this athlete was forced into saying sorry. Such objections reflected a perception that the media and public’s (over) emphasis on the pursuit of gold medals was inhumane.
But it is perhaps not that simple.
Reflecting a 23-year shooting career, which spanned four Olympic games, Tan Zongliang said: “I dedicated the best part of my youth to shooting. While a bronze is less valuable than a gold, it is nevertheless good enough for me. I now would like to spend more time with my mother. But of course if the country needs me, I would continue shooting.” Such remarks are sincere and moving.
The reality is: the tax payers nation wide are the ones footing the bill for the training of the athletes, and the athletes in turn put in their youth, all towards the goal of gaining honors in the international competitions.
I believe each and every one of the athletes showing up in the Olympics to have proven themselves. To gain the rights of getting into the Olympics, which represents the highest level of international competitions, an athlete must have paid unimaginably in terms of sweat and blood. Nevertheless, they still shoulder pressure above and beyond their foreign rivals because there is an unwritten “social contract”. The bargain is: we pay the money and you return with rankings and medals.
Therefore, when an athlete says “the motherland groomed me”, he/she is not uttering some verbal niceties but is telling things as they are. Tan’s sincerity is moving. He has nothing to be ashamed of after making the best effort for over 23 years. Yet he uttered the word “sorry” from his heart, because of that implicit bargain.
So what is it that we expect out of this bargain? An athlete indifferent to the outcome? Or someone focused on collecting fame and wealth when things go well and hiding behind the cliche “it’s more important to participate [than winning]” when he/she cannot deliver?
The tears from Du Li and regret from Tan Zongliang demonstrate their sense of responsibility. There is a real and heavy burden placed on every outstanding athlete in China. The pressure comes from the unwritten social contract instead of the media and the public. The athletes cannot do much about it, and can only focus on trying harder.
I wish our athletes the best in their competitions. They have worked hard. I hope people would not be too critical of those missing out the medals. We should provide comfort and encouragement to support them.
This post is prompted by a Washington Post article “Burdened By China’s Gold Standard” written by Ariana Eunjung Cha. Ms. Cha quoted a single comment left on the Tiexue Forum after Du Li was unable to defend her title in the woman’s 10m air rifle event, which produced the first gold of the Beijing Olympic game
The state spent so much money on you, provided you with such good facilities, gave you four years to train . . . You disappoint your countrymen.
to establish the theme of the article
In China’s obsessive quest to capture more medals than any other country at the Summer Games, the performance of every athlete has been deemed critically important. So those who have fallen short of expectations — securing a silver instead of a gold, or worse, winning no medal at all — have been vilified.
I am not going to discuss Ms. Cha’s professionalism in journalism, lest someone accuse me of obsessing with boring and minor stuff in “western media” again. But her single data point statistics surprised me since my impression of the public reaction to Du Li’s 5th place finish was one overwhelmingly sympathetic and supportive. So I went to Tiexue to look for her source. I couldn’t find it but ran into this article and thought it interesting for our English readers.