State-run Chinese newspaper the Global Times has an interesting article today, entitled "Olympic gold medals still capable of inspiring nations".
The story is obstinately about why countries aim for gold, but whats more interesting to us is the allusions that the article makes to the pressure that is put on Chinese athletes to perform. Here's one key paragraph:
Xiao Tian, deputy head of the Chinese Olympic delegation, didn't attempt to hide the pressure the Chinese athletes are feeling at the London Games. He said the Chinese public would abuse the delegation if they couldn't meet their expectations of the number of gold medals. Undoubtedly, the majority of Chinese still pay a great deal of attention to the Olympic medal count.
China's rise to top the Olympic tables in 2008 is pretty remarkable. The country had come 4th in 1996, 3rd in 2000, and 2nd in 2004, before finally taking first place when the games were held in Beijing 4 years ago. China currently leads the medals ranking for the London Olympics and is predicted to come a very close second overall this year.
The price of that success has included an enormous amount of pressure put on athletes. Before 2008, slogans on the walls of Chinese training facilities included "The Motherland Is Above Everything; Strike for Gold in the Olympics," and "Pressure each other. Pressure yourself". Cash prizes of $200,000 could be earned by medal-winning athletes. A common saying amongst athletes before those games was reportedly "You'll disappoint 1.3 billion people".
After the 2008 games concluded criticism of the amount of funding and importance placed on sporting achievement at the expense of other priorities has grown — it was something frequently highlighted in the backlash against Beijing authorities after this month's deadly flooding, often blamed on a lack of investment in sewage infrastructure. Chinese sporting authorities have also tried to limit the pressure on athletes, ramping up spending on sports psychology and offering athletes stress-relieving activities such as yoga.
What effect this government policy or public backlash on Chinese athletes' mental outlook for this year's games is hard to gauge, however. As Adam Minter, a Shanghai-based journalist, tweeted before a link to the Global Times article: "Ever noticed how the smiles of many Chinese Olympians are more relieved than joyful?"
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