Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Gold Medal in Complaining Goes To...(cue anthem)

The Olympic games has always invited controversy no matter what. Allegation of doping, bribery of officials, poor sportsmanship, and misappropriation of government resources to hold games have all been sources of controversy. The 2008 Beijing games are especially controversial, especially over China's human rights records and air quality. As to the games themselves, the Chinese women's gymnastics team has gotten controversy as they look a little bit young to be 16, the minimum age for competition. And of course, the Chinese team landed gold.

At one point, the words "never accepting defeat" usually meant taking your mistakes, learning from them, and trying that much harder in the next competition. Now, it seems to mean something else entirely. In certain cases, such as bribing of officials or illegal substances, the case is certainly legitimate. For example, in one swimming event, the Chinese winner came first, although was immediately disqualified after a false start.

So, when the favoured American team fails to land gold, it's nothing to do with training tactics of China being superior to Americans or their the Americans unable to focus under pressure. No, it's the stadium official's fault that Alicia Sacramone fell off the balance beam and didn't stick the landing during a floor exercise.

There is no doubt that athletic training is a very strict discipline, even more so in the Olympic levels. You literally eat, sleep, breath, live for the sport and have nothing else. However, in China, they take it a bit further. Chinese children are hand-picked from their homes and daycares when they are just able to walk, and are put to long training regimens, and if they're lucky, they get to see their parents once a year. Western countries have side-line parents that berate coaches and officials when their precious little snowflakes don't see ice time.

Simply put, the Chinese get things done, human rights and individual liberties be damned. It's a bit of a frightening way to look at it, with the notion that individual liberties and democracy are highly overrated, but look at the results. China's economy is a juggernaut with no signs of slowing and their athletes are cleaning up. Western countries place a lot of emphasis on individual liberties and freedoms, and are somehow shocked when these things don't come at a price.

Everything comes with a price, including the rigorous Chinese training regimen. Athletes training with rigorous pace can achieve excellence in sport, but once their bodies are no longer able to maintain the pace, what else can they do? Unfortunately, there are a lot more athletes than coaches, so they really have to come up with a new game plan. This is doubly the case for athletes in communist states, where they have zero skills in any other application. Look at Jackie Chan, one of the most well known actors from Hong Kong. He was inducted into the Beijing Opera School at a very young age and considered a great athlete in his day, but now in his 50s, he's functionally illiterate. And for Chinese athletes that are permanently injured, they're essentially treated like American war veterans, and no one ever remembers Chinese athletes after their glories have long past, because of the emphasis on the state over the individual. People still remember Mary Lou Retton.

Sometimes, you have to wonder if the Beijing Olympics are a metaphor for the direction the world is taking. China, not previously a strong medal contender, is a serious force to be reckoned with. America, previously strong in most events, especially women's gymnastics, is forced to take second, and can only complain.

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