An inspirational Chinese quote, pasted on the wall of a private gym for China’s women’s gymnastics team, might seem unimaginable to Western athletes:
“Pressure from above. Pressure from below. Pressure each other. Pressure myself. Without bearing the bitterest hardship, there can be no great breakthrough. Without experiencing the greatest pressure, there can be no champion.”
Yet if the Beijing Olympics once seemed destined to be a pressure cooker for Chinese athletes, the reality is different—and far more interesting. Chinese athletes are indeed bearing an explicit burden of national responsibility that exceeds what other host countries impose on home teams, but the Chinese appear to be handling it with remarkable coolness and success.
As competition began Saturday, China was leading the U.S. in gold medals, 27 to 16, and in the overall medal count, the U.S. was ahead, 50 to 44. This is no accident. Long before the Games, Chinese sports authorities launched a quiet, behind-the-scenes effort to tap the most beneficial elements of Confucian education and socialist-style athletic nationalism.
…… The use of pressure extends beyond gymnastics. The quote on the team gym wall, first reported by the Web site China Digital Times, is among a range of messages for Chinese athletes that tie personal success to national interest. Among others, Chinese weightlifters are being spurred on with posters bearing the following: “The Motherland is Above Everything; Go for Gold in the Olympics; Lift up the world; Hold up Hope; Stay Away from Steroids.”