From The New Republic:
… China’s athletes, brought up in a disciplined system, probably never were the life of any Games. But the 2008 Olympics could be particularly brutal for them. Many athletes seem to benefit from local support–in Sydney, Australian athletes, loving the home crowd, turned in a staggering medal haul. But Australian politicians never suggested that Australia’s global honor depended on winning medals. China, by contrast, has built a state athletics system even larger than those of the old Eastern Bloc. The system cultivates children from a young age to succeed in sports ranging from gymnastics to swimming, and these athletes become dependent on the state system for subsidies and housing. Because of the dominance of the state system, athletes know that if they don’t succeed at the highest levels, they can wind up destitute, because there are fewer ways to make money commercially than in other countries, and the state system does not provide great retirement subsidies for all the athletes. (It also pushes athletes so hard a senior medical official recently had to warn the trainers to back off.) In the past few months, Chinese bloggers have lapped up stories about Ai Dongmei (ËâæÂÜ¨Ê¢Ö), a marathoner who has wound up peddling clothes to survive and offered to sell her medals online. [Full Text]
Joshua Kurlantzick is a visiting scholar in the Carnegie Endowment’s China Program.