Meet Hu Jia. He won a gold medal in the 10-meter platform diving event at the Athens Games. About a year later, he lost a retina, while training for the Games in Beijing.
Instead of retiring from the sport though, he pressed even harder. In the process he injured his other retina as well. He was willing to sacrifice his body so that he could represent his country in Beijing.
"The Beijing Olympics is an enormous glory to our generation," Hu, whose other retina was also injured, was quoted in the Chinese media as saying last year. Speaking of another gold medal, he added, "I will do my utmost to grab one, unless my eyes are really blind."
Unfortunately for Hu, his injuries finally caught up with him in recent months and he will not be able to compete in Beijing.
His story was just one of many interesting tales that came out of an International Herald Tribune article I read recently. I think it illustrates just how much pressure Chinese athletes are being put under to succeed.
After reading this story I actually felt bad for Liu. If he doesn't win a gold medal in Beijing it's as if none of his other career achievements will matter. The constant pressure to succeed might reach a breaking point in the next few weeks, especially if his comments from last year are any indication.
But last August, after winning the track world championships in Japan, he spoke of the agony of high expectations. "I've been tortured these days," Liu said. "I was afraid of speaking too much. I've never been so nervous; more nervous than in the Olympics, because there's too much attention on me."
The Chinese government wants its athletes to perform well in Beijing. I get that. Everybody wants to win, but there comes a point when you're pushing athletes too far, and that's exactly what it sounds like the Chinese have done.
"An astonishing amount of manpower, money and goods have been poured in, so much so that it's inappropriate to be revealed publicly," said Lu Yuanzhen, a professor of sports sociology at the Academy of Sports Sciences at South China Normal University. If the country's athletes do not perform up to expectations, he added, "the entire nation and its people will lose face."
I'm convinced after reading many stories just like this one over the last few weeks, that the pressure will overcome some athletes and affect their performance.
Having the weight of a country AND its government on you, will be bigger than any hurdle Liu has ever jumped.
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