Aug 16

Do not pressure athletes into saying sorry

Written by DJ on Saturday, August 16th, 2008 at 10:19 am
Filed under:media | Tags:, , , ,
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Note: The following is a translation of a post by “zl19860707” in 铁血论坛 Tiexue Forum, one of the popular online bulletin boards in China. This post was responding to the words spoken by the Chinese shooting athlete 谭宗亮 Tan Zongliang after he won the bronze in the men’s 50m pistol event on August 12. Beijing 2008 is the fourth Olympics Tan has competed in, and this bronze is the first of any kind he has received. (Tan, by the way, now officially owns a silver medal because the North Korean shooter ahead of him failed subsequent doping tests.)

Do not pressure athletes into saying sorry

Tan Zongliang said: “I feel that I have let the country down by winning only a single bronze through four Olympics.”

As soon as Tan’s words were reported, people objected, thinking it was because of aggressive reporters and demanding public opinions that this athlete was forced into saying sorry. Such objections reflected a perception that the media and public’s (over) emphasis on the pursuit of gold medals was inhumane.

But it is perhaps not that simple.

Reflecting a 23-year shooting career, which spanned four Olympic games, Tan Zongliang said: “I dedicated the best part of my youth to shooting. While a bronze is less valuable than a gold, it is nevertheless good enough for me. I now would like to spend more time with my mother. But of course if the country needs me, I would continue shooting.” Such remarks are sincere and moving.

The reality is: the tax payers nation wide are the ones footing the bill for the training of the athletes, and the athletes in turn put in their youth, all towards the goal of gaining honors in the international competitions.

I believe each and every one of the athletes showing up in the Olympics to have proven themselves. To gain the rights of getting into the Olympics, which represents the highest level of international competitions, an athlete must have paid unimaginably in terms of sweat and blood. Nevertheless, they still shoulder pressure above and beyond their foreign rivals because there is an unwritten “social contract”. The bargain is: we pay the money and you return with rankings and medals.

Therefore, when an athlete says “the motherland groomed me”, he/she is not uttering some verbal niceties but is telling things as they are. Tan’s sincerity is moving. He has nothing to be ashamed of after making the best effort for over 23 years. Yet he uttered the word “sorry” from his heart, because of that implicit bargain.

So what is it that we expect out of this bargain? An athlete indifferent to the outcome? Or someone focused on collecting fame and wealth when things go well and hiding behind the cliche “it’s more important to participate [than winning]” when he/she cannot deliver?

The tears from Du Li and regret from Tan Zongliang demonstrate their sense of responsibility. There is a real and heavy burden placed on every outstanding athlete in China. The pressure comes from the unwritten social contract instead of the media and the public. The athletes cannot do much about it, and can only focus on trying harder.

I wish our athletes the best in their competitions. They have worked hard. I hope people would not be too critical of those missing out the medals. We should provide comfort and encouragement to support them.

[Additional Note]

This post is prompted by a Washington Post article “Burdened By China’s Gold Standard” written by Ariana Eunjung Cha. Ms. Cha quoted a single comment left on the Tiexue Forum after Du Li was unable to defend her title in the woman’s 10m air rifle event, which produced the first gold of the Beijing Olympic game

The state spent so much money on you, provided you with such good facilities, gave you four years to train . . . You disappoint your countrymen.

to establish the theme of the article

In China’s obsessive quest to capture more medals than any other country at the Summer Games, the performance of every athlete has been deemed critically important. So those who have fallen short of expectations — securing a silver instead of a gold, or worse, winning no medal at all — have been vilified.

I am not going to discuss Ms. Cha’s professionalism in journalism, lest someone accuse me of obsessing with boring and minor stuff in “western media” again. But her single data point statistics surprised me since my impression of the public reaction to Du Li’s 5th place finish was one overwhelmingly sympathetic and supportive. So I went to Tiexue to look for her source. I couldn’t find it but ran into this article and thought it interesting for our English readers.

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31 Responses to “Do not pressure athletes into saying sorry”

  1. MoneyBall Says:

    This is something I just learnt about this year. That western medias, despite their self claimed journalism and ethics, could be just as dirty as CCP’s propaganda.

    Quoting a single post from TieXue to back their point…… and this is not some cheap tabloid as huffingtonpost, this is washtingtonpost for god sake. I hope one day china would have free media, so the newspaper can quote Americans’posts in places like freerepublic.com, or even better, stormfront.org, to depict Americans to 1 billion chinese readers. We will all be free then, free to hate eachtoher’s guts.

  2. Hemulen Says:


    Yes, it’s a bit obsessive. But who am I to judge? It’s a bit obsessive of me to respond to that point. 🙂


    I agree that Western media can be dirty, but this is not an example of that.

  3. MoneyBall Says:


    What if Chinadaily published an article quoting StormFront randomly to prove how racist Amercans are?
    Will you label that as CCP’s dirty trick to brainwash citizens and breed nationalism?

  4. Hemulen Says:


    I might. Because (1) the People’s Daily is a government organ and (2) the government place severe limits on how much your can criticize official policy, as reflected in the People’s Daily.

  5. MoneyBall Says:


    Oh so it’s not what they say but who says it huh? alright, I can respect that. Just tell me this, if you have such high guard against the government(which I agree, we should never ever trust any goverment), yet you have a very loose standard for corperates(if we can agree west medias are just corperates)? why is it that us people supposely can trust corperates more than governments by default?

  6. Daniel Says:

    This article might be related.


    It’s about how both the medal counts could be measure in a way to make both nations happy. Although I disagree a bit how they say it’s hard for other people to understand the desire to win. It’s not that complicated and other trying to break the sick man of Asia, which I can comprehend, I think a part of it has to do with the basic desire to win…that’s it.

  7. Daniel Says:

    People are going to say play around with the words to sound like whatever statement it could be. I remember watching some games where the announcers keep mentioning the need for perfection on Chinese athletes as well as remarking about the other side controversies.
    While I think it’s true (but not with all that clouds of “evilness” some may associate it with), it’s not like other people aren’t wanting the same thing, as if this is unique to one country.

    Oh yeah, I want to mention part of the reason why I think we trust corporations a bit more than governments is that partly there’s little choice (it is hard to get around, not impossible, but like in the US, you have to be quite isolated to not have any contact with corporations in general) and the way how these companies can be topple if people really want to. Can you imagine what it would be like to try to topple a government, not including the exceptions where “supposedly” no bloodshed occured?

  8. Hemulen Says:


    yet you have a very loose standard for corperates

    I don’t. The best way of punishing corporations is not to buy their products, in this case, not buy their newspapers. Governments are stickier and most important of all, they have monopoly on violence.

  9. S.K. Cheung Says:

    The guy tried his best. Can’t ask for much more than that at the end of the day. No shame in being second best in the world. No need to apologize; nothing to apologize for. But if he felt so compelled, that’s also his prerogative. Nuff said.

  10. Hongkonger Says:

    The BEST of the American “Can-Do” spirit!
    Dara Torres, 41-year-old comes out of retirement – her second long layoff, actually – and re-emerges as one of her country’s best athletes, after having a baby, no less, to win the silver medal in women 50M-freestyle, missing the Gold medal by 100th of a second! Amazing!

    “I’ve gotten so many wonderful e-mails and messages from people and from friends of friends who have said that they feel like they can go out and do things that they’ve put off, that they thought they couldn’t do,” Torres said. “But they have to remember that they’re also inspiring me.”

  11. MutantJedi Says:


    “Governments are stickier and most important of all, they have monopoly on violence.
    Nicely said.

  12. Daniel Says:

    That’s part of the good side of American sports. Of course, it really depends on the individual but in general, I think being a good sport is appreciated by most.
    In the case of Chinese sports, most people outside of the circle can only see a few angles. Hopefully we can see more of the good sport sides as well. (That is speaking from someone who can understand little Chinese). Before the Olympics, actually around the the beggining of this century, I’ve heard a little bit about athletes in China from some of the international students at my school. Most of it was seemingly quite neutral, and nothing really controversial. Although I do hear a bit about parental pressure which actually isn’t that unusual anywhere in the world.
    There’s also little need to emphasize negativity because someone out there will dig for it, and it will stick out like a thorn without having people to shout about it.

  13. pug_ster Says:

    It turned out that Du Li won the 50m Rifle 3 position later. So I guess somehow she has redeemed herself… I do agree that the Chinese press shouldn’t go after these people. China should train more athletes, don’t put all your eggs in one basket and don’t expect these athletes to win. I’m sure that China can crank out more than one Du Li’s out there.

    Unfortunately, for any Olympians who actually made it into the games, there are probably at least 10 olympic hopefulls who went by the wasteside. It happens in any sport in any country, even here in the US.

    It is sad that most of the metals out there are for sports like Track & Field and Swimming that most Asian countries like China can’t crank out enough metals. There are some pluses and minuses between the American Olympic system and the Chinese olympic system. The American olympic system is purely run by sponsors or from your own personal savings. As a result, most Americans only want to watch, Track & Field, Swimming, Beach Volleyball, and Gymnastics while all the other sports gets a backseat. Fortunately, China was able to capitalize on the sports which Americans don’t care about anymore like weightlifting, which is the sport where they crank out more golds than any other sports. It is just funny to see a bunch of burly, squatty, and don’t forget mostly unattractive Chinese men and women who earned these metals. I doubt that their looks would earn any sponsors.

    That said, the most overhyped US athlete is Tyson Gay. He failed in the 200m tryout, and failed again in the 100m semifinals. The sponsors spent millions on that guy and they got nothing. It turns out an unkown like Dix Walter has walked out with a bronze.

  14. Daniel Says:

    Michael Phelps was pretty awesome. Well, even though it was two swims that were team effort, nonetheless it’s a big boost for the games. (In a way, hope this doesn’t offend anybody).

    I’ve been reading some articles, well they already mentioned this a few years before these games, that the sports system in China is going to get “better” (maybe subjective opinion, but it’s a little different than saying how they were pluck away since young, which may also be a subjective opinion from what I’ve been reading and hearing) in the future. Not just for Olympic games and other competitions but overall, for sake of pride, national, local community and individual, for health, etc.

  15. FOARP Says:

    No athlete should apologise for a single loss in the Olympics because no athlete can guarantee victory, a string of defeats in a sport like football on the other hand . . . .

    By the way, I saw the team gymnastics events, an I have to sat China just blew the opposition away – incredible precision, just incredible!

  16. MoneyBall Says:

    Weightlifting is fine, the most ridiculous game is swiming with 4 positions. I cant understand why, just pick the fastest position and get on with it. Think about it, in tracks we only compete who runs the fastest, we dont compete who crawls the fastest, or who runs the fastest with hands.

  17. FOARP Says:

    @Moneyball – A dig at Phelps – no? Michael Johnson is doing the commentary for the BBC, he said “If I could have done the 100 metres running forwards, backwards and freestyle I would have got 11 gold medals too!”

    I’m loving this weekend by the way – Britain’s two most successful days at the Olympic games in more than 100 years, and they have already won as many golds as they did in the whole of the Athens games. Sure, we’re never going to win more than the superpowers of this world (except Russia, maybe), but we’re doing very well to be in 3rd place in the medal stakes. Loved the Jamaicans today as well.

  18. FOARP Says:

    Plus – check out the Taiwanese bitching about being beaten by the 共匪 at baseball –


  19. S.K. Cheung Says:

    To Moneyball:
    but those are 4 distinct swimming strokes. Seems like weightlifters have their clean-and-jerks and plain old lifting as well. Running is running. Crawling, on hands, backwards, I’m sure would make fantastic sports. Given the explosion of events in recent years, you may yet get your wish, in time.

    I agree that some disciplines lend themselves to milking of medals more than others. You can say the same about gymnastics, for instance. That’s the way it goes.

  20. pug_ster Says:

    Looks like Liu Xiang failed because of his Achilles’ Heel. I do have to say that it is somehow that it is his fault. He should’ve have some surgery to fix the problem and he would at least be able to run.

  21. Chops Says:

    Looks like Liu Xiang’s coach apologized on his behalf.

  22. FOARP Says:

    There was no way the man could compete, sad, he shouldn’t have tried to run. The guy had a lot of spirit, but his Achilles tendon just wasn’t there on the day.

  23. Daniel Says:

    In a way, give Liu Xiang a break. It just didn’t go his way. However, I agree that this guy has a lot of heart.

    By the way, I’ve heard similar arguments regarding how certain Olympic sports seem to be able to milk more medals than others. It’s hard to compare along generation lines too because Mark Spitz, along with praising the US swim team, mentioned how if they had that many competitions to pursue at his time, he was certain someone back then would have been able to achieve just as much. Which goes to figure how well people will do in the future as well.

    According to some stories, the Russian athlete Yelena Isinbayeva appreciated the chinese crowd for her lot.
    On another note, I sort of agree with how others rank by gold medals rather than the total count like we do in the States. Really, only a few countries at the top could afford to do that, and mostly it’s just an indicator to stroke their egos as being of a percieved “super-dominant” status per se. The majority of them, if what I’m reading correctly, will either get none or roughly the same amount of medals. So, it might be easier to rank by Gold, however I think getting a medal in general is good enough. If judged fairly I supposed.

  24. totochi Says:

    This is something I just learnt about this year. That western medias, despite their self claimed journalism and ethics, could be just as dirty as CCP’s propaganda.

    While I agree that the Washington Post reporter should have found more sources to back her claim, didn’t you just do the same thing by equating one American newspaper article to “western medias”?

  25. FOARP Says:

    @totochi – I have many people say this kind of thing, but it is strange that I never met that many people who trusted the western press when I was in China, and government accusations of bias in the western media were also quite prevelant.

  26. Tom Says:


    Big difference though: China state press is a monopoly – there is no other press. At least western press has many different companies trying to report the news, so a range of opinions can be seen. China also ranked one of the worst countries for freedom of press in 2007, up there with North Korea and Iran, woo!

  27. FOARP Says:

    @Tom – I agree entirely, I merely doubt there were that many people who believed the western media in China and had their minds changed by this year’s events.

  28. DJ Says:


    Re: “China state press is a monopoly – there is no other press.”

    Is that really so? I have heard this description often but always feel a bit uncertain about its veracity. Do you know more about all the media’s ownership and control structures in China? Would you share the knowledge?

  29. FOARP Says:

    @DJ – Fairly obviously there is privately owned media (although there are restrictions on who may own a media organisation). The Chinese state maintains the power to censor, remove licenses, depose editors and journalists – and thus retains a monopoly on the truth, but not on the ownership of the media.

  30. MoneyBall Says:


    “While I agree that the Washington Post reporter should have found more sources to back her claim, didn’t you just do the same thing by equating one American newspaper article to “western medias”?”

    If tomorrow I get a paycheck from someone for the craps I write on internet, I will come here and apologize.

  31. S.K. Cheung Says:

    all the same, pro bono or not, one newspaper does not western media make.

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