By Raymond Zhou
Liu Xiang is under enormous pressure.
He is expected to deliver China's only gold-medal in the track and field event in the coming Beijing Olympics. He won at the Athens Games four years ago, and held the 110m hurdles record until Cuban athlete Dayron Robles broke that record by 0.01 seconds.
Since June, Robles has won seven championships out of eight. Liu, on the other hand, was suffering from a sore hamstring.
Things do not look good for China's biggest athletic star. If he does not win gold, 1.3 billion people will be disappointed. As one commentator said, even a silver or bronze will not be good enough.
China is expected to win quite a few gold medals, especially in table tennis, gymnastics, etc. But a gold in the 110m hurdles is bigger than any of them. It shatters the stereotype that Asians are intrinsically weaker in track and field events.
This reminds me of Zhu Jianhua, another star athlete from Shanghai. Before the 1984 Los Angeles Games, the high jumper repeatedly won world championships, setting three world records within a short period. Then, when it mattered, he took home only bronze.
I still remember the day of his astounding defeat. The year 1984 was a time China did not have much live transmission of sports events or many television sets. Dozens of students crammed into a single dorm with a TV, and CCTV, not yet dexterous with talking heads or commercial breaks, kept us waiting for Zhu Jianhua.
He only cleared 2.31 m - disappointing for someone whose record was 2.39 m.
If we had Internet then, the virtual spitting from across the nation would have drowned him.
I fear the same fate might befall Liu.
A random browse of media commentaries turned up statements like: "If he doesn't snatch the Beijing Olympics gold, all his previous successes will come to nothing." I hope those who have access to him do not give him this kind of "encouragement". The last thing Liu needs right now is more pressure.
In a sense, both the public and officialdom in China are like the archetypal parents. They pin all their hopes on a few promising children. You will see a pattern if you study parents who prepare their children for the annual national college entrance exam. They cook for their kids, make their beds, buy them expensive placebos disguised as omnipotent health supplements, even rent them rooms in luxury hotels so that they can concentrate on their studies.
The only thing they are stingy with is to give the kids a break - mentally.
I have seen so many parents trying to hammer home the importance of diligence that I am surprised the suicide rate of high-schoolers is not higher. That is why I feel Han Han the young writer has set a good example by defying parental expectations and refusing to go to college. Someone needs to tell the parents that good intentions alone may not constitute parental guidance.
Many in China do not seem to realize that pressure in the form of pep talks work to only a certain extent and for certain people. Beyond that, adverse effects start to kick in. Kids are by nature rebellious, and too much pressure will only intensify their defiance.
Athletes like Liu do not need admonition of any kind. They know too well what their performance means. What they need is an approximation or even a semblance of normalcy.
Do not turn Liu into another Zhu. Do not make the terrible mistake of pressuring him till he buckles. Cheer him if he wins; comfort him if he loses. Whatever the result, he is our pride.
(China Daily 07/26/2008 page4)