We marvel at the feats of these Olympians, their strength, speed, agility and composure in the face of crippling pressure. We can’t take our eyes off these London Games.
However, behind the athletic glory are years of pain and suffering. Competition at this level requires sacrifice — early morning workouts, special diets, going light on little luxuries that might distract from the goal of a gold medal. To get this far, life must be restructured for most.
We salute the self-sacrifice of athletes blessed with amazing talent who push themselves to even greater heights. For most, it was a choice they and their families made on their own.
That last part doesn’t exactly describe China, however.
Consider the saga of Wu Minxia, a Chinese diver who won a gold medal last week.
Not long after, Wu, 26, learned some disturbing news about her family. Her grandparents were dead, both having passed away last year. Her mother has cancer.
Wu’s family had shielded her from these grim details lest it distract the Olympian from her athletic quest.
“We never talk about family matters with our daughter,” her father told the Shanghai Morning Post.
“We accepted a long time ago that she doesn’t belong entirely to us,” Wu Yuming told the newspaper. “I don’t even dare to think about things like enjoying family happiness.”
Chinese athletes like Wu Minxia are often identified at a young age by the Chinese government as potential athletic superstars and are separated from their families. Home is a state-sponsored training facility where raw athleticism is honed into top competitors. The results are showing during the 2012 Summer Games as China has a slight medal advantage over the United States.
According to The New York Times, “Many athletes do not see their families for years.” The family of gold medal-winning weightlifter Lin Qingfeng hadn’t seen their son in more than six years.
“It’s been a long time since he’s had a meal at home,” The Times quoted Lin’s mother as saying.
Something is amiss with China’s system. Perhaps some changes are in order. Across the globe, it’s accepted that a home-cooked meal is often just what’s needed, even for elite athletes.