Not all Olympic athletes are free to make "Me First" choice as Simone Biles did
来源: 大中报 南茜(Nancy Jin)
Simone Biles, the 24-year-old GOAT athlete from the US, made a stunning announcement that she withdrew from the Tokyo Olympic team competitions, citing personal mental health concerns. As the lead star of the US team and the most dominant gymnastic champion of her generation, Biles aimed to bring the team to more Olympic history. Her withdrawal has dealt a heavy blow to Team USA's gold standing and jeopardized the country's Olympic ranking. While Biles can prioritize her health over her duty of topping the gold counts for the nation, Olympic athletes from other parts of the world may not be free to make such a choice.
Despite the devastating impact on the US team, Biles' decision has gained widespread supports from American public, earning applause for her courage to address mental health issues and put her wellbeing first. Many from the gymnastic world and beyond took to social media to express their support. Meanwhile, her sponsor, Athleta, vows to stand by her decisions and support her wellbeing in and out of competition. "Being the first also means knowing how to take care of yourself," said Athleta's spokesperson on the day of her exit announcement. "We are inspired by her leadership today and are behind her every step of the way."
But the decision to put athlete's interest above the national glory may face outright condemnation or fierce backlash in authoritarian countries. In China, athletes are the products of the country's sports machines, designed with a single goal to churn Olympic gold medals. To repair China's image of "Sick Man of Asia," Beijing is eager to showcase national strengths at Olympics, striving for sport's glory and athletic supremacy. Obsessed with Olympic gold, China aimed at 119 gold medals in the 2008 event and set on to nab "the most gold at any cost" in the Tokyo Games.
Beijing has poured massive funding into athletes churning efforts, running hundreds of sports factories at full throttles that put thousands of children athletes through the grinder. The training schools have made the recruited kids endure the most grueling training programs while depriving their access to parental love and the opportunities for academic growth – not by the choices of their own. Hardship prevails on the athletes' assembly line, leaving many suffering physical injuries and emotional trauma.
Athletes made to the Olympics carry a massive burden to claim gold medals for national glory. Medal contenders failing to deliver the expectations would deem as a great disgrace, bringing national shame. Wang Luyao, who was unable to make the finals for the air-rifle event in Tokyo, faced a torrent of online abuse after her admission of being chickened out at the race. Backlash against disappointing Olympians has had a long history in China. Li Ning, China's Vault Prince, who didn't bring back any medals in the 1988 Games, received a flood of hate mails following his loss. China's high jump star Zhu Jianhua suffered a similar fate and even faced death threats after receiving bronze instead of the highly coveted gold.
The threat of abuse and attack might have driven the 26-year-old Chinese athlete Liao QiuYun to tears after losing 1 kg to her gold medal rival at the Tokyo weightlifting floor. Apart from the physical injuries incurred by the punishing years of brutal training since her childhood, excessive mental pressure and emotional strains -- coupled with the feelings of disappointment, guilt, and fear for failing to achieve gold -- have taken a heavy toll. She could not express her anguish to the world by speaking up as Biles did, and her only choice was to allow her tears to flow like a river, with a silver medal around her neck.