Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Price of Gold

What an amazing story. For those of us in the "free world", this is almost beyond comprehension. The next question, I suppose, is what will become of her after her diving career is over? It is well known that many former Chinese athletes return to their home towns and villages after their athletic careers have ended due to age, injury, or lack of progress with no useful education or job skills.  In this case her level of ahievement may entitle her to a better fate. Maybe as a coach or diving official. I don't know.
Is the ability to jump into a pool of water gracefully really a pursuit worthy such single-minded dedication? Even at the expense of family relationships?
Believe me, I can appreciate the almost transcedent feeling that comes from mastering a physical skill. I can also appreciate the joy of competition and believe that such pursuits are worthy of an investment of time and energy. But, is such an activity, that is really mundane and unconsequential in the grand scheme of things, worthy of devoting one's entire life? I am happy that the country I live in at least allows me to choose. I am constantly amazed by the level of performance of these great athletes, but I wouldn't trade my life for theirs.

LONDON – Chinese diver Wu Minxia's celebrations at winning a third Olympic gold medal were cut short after her family revealed the details of a devastating secret they had kept for several years.

Wu's parents decided to withhold news of both the death of her grandparents and of her mother's long battle with breast cancer until after she won the 3-meter springboard in London so as to not interfere with her diving career.
"It was essential to tell this white lie," said her father Wu Yuming.
The story of Wu's family secret has generated huge discussion in China, where the pursuit of success has been chased by the government-backed sports national sports program with unshakeable zeal over the past two decades.
Now there seems to be a backlash against the win-at-all-costs mentality after the revelations about Wu followed fierce criticism from a national newspaper when a 17-year-old weightlifter failed to medal.
In China, athletes are often taken away from their families at a young age and placed in specialist training schools where they practice for hours every day. Wu began training daily at a diving camp at the age of 6. By the time she was 16, she had left home to be installed in a government aquatic sports institute.
She has become one of her sport's all-time greats, but her father says the success has come at a high price to her personal life.
"We accepted a long time ago that she doesn't belong entirely to us," Wu Yuming told the Shanghai Morning Post. "I don't even dare to think about things like enjoying family happiness."
Wu's mother defended the decision to keep her situation private and admitted she only broached the subject of her breast cancer at this point because she is now in remission. Both of Wu's grandparents died more than a year ago, but the diver knew nothing of their passing until this week.
The Chinese government's attitude towards the performances of its athletes is now coming under greater scrutiny than ever before. Messages of congratulations from the government to athletes through the state news agency have been sent only to gold medalists, not those winning silver or bronze.
"It is too narrow to look at the Olympics purely through the prism of medals," said an editorial in the China Business News publication. "It is also about sweat, tears, hardships … peace, freedom, and justice."
However, while China continues to dominate the medal table it is unlikely there will be any significant shift in a system that is regarded with pride within Chinese political circles.

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