The hardship tales of American Olympians have included endless pre-dawn swim practices for the chlorine crowd, home-equity loans for elite triathlon training and the sound of Coach
It is natural to grow chesty with pride for the U.S. Olympians -- many of whom shelve normal lives off the radar of the
As the Beijing Games unfold, the Western world -- united in disdain against the human rights violations of China, synched in a chorus of "Free Tibet" -- should save a rooting voice for another object of oppression: the Chinese athlete.
I've covered eight Olympics, but I've never seen such a politically charged burden on a home team. I'll be interested to see how China handles winning -- and, more importantly, losing -- with the world there to scrutinize its rigorous win-or-bust system.
In China, authorities often act as scouts for an archaic Soviet-esque sports model, plucking children -- sometimes the only child of couples in a nation with birth limits -- from the low-income, rural reaches of the country. Possess stout legs? You're perfect for weightlifting. Wispy frame? You're made for a marathon. Able to catch butterflies? Badminton is calling you.
Under pressure, and with the riches of national glory as a carrot, parents surrender their children to the sports factories, where they are sealed off from their families for years. Having not seen her son in three years, the mother of
Yang has said he cannot escape the system. They won't let him out -- and he's 24. Now think about the children. At age 10,
Hello, child services? (Only China could make any Karolyi -- Bela or
The disturbing situation for the Chinese athletes amounts to an odd ambivalence. A gold-medal count that tops the U.S. will validate the Communist regime's factory efforts at flexing its world muscle as a superpower. A gold-medal count that falls short will leave athletes nationally disgraced as just-miss winners, with no reward for giving up their childhoods.
Can't decide? When in doubt, why not cheer for the oppressed? Free Tibet! Free Yang Wenjun!