Athletes deserve support regardless of medal tally, proud sports fans say
Despite winning silver in the men's 56kg weightlifting event at the Olympic Games, Wu Jingbiao, Chinese double world champion, apologized profusely for, as he put it, letting down his fans and his country in an interview with China Central Television on Monday.
"I feel terribly guilty for disappointing my country, the Chinese weightlifting team and all the people who supported me," he said fighting the tears in front of the camera. "I really wanted to be the best but I didn't make it," he said. "I am sorry!"
The CCTV reporter hugged Wu, 23, and told him that it was a proud achievement to win the silver medal and he would have another opportunity.
After all, the Olympic maxim states that it is not the winning but the taking part that counts.
Back in China, public opinion and online comments overwhelmingly supported Wu and other Chinese athletes who failed to get gold. The obsession for Olympic gold should not lessen the remarkable feat of getting an Olympic medal of whatever hue, they said.
"It's understandable that Wu regretted not getting the gold but he has nothing to apologize for," said Guangzhou resident Wu Zhilin, an avid sports fan.
"His reaction shows how much he, as a Chinese athlete, cared about the gold. But winning silver also deserves to be celebrated."
Medal: 'Athletes not machines'
There is no doubt that gold medal winners are given more material rewards and media exposure than other Olympic participants in China.
To some extent, the media are partly responsible for the obsession with gold medals, Wu Zhilin said.
"You see so much media coverage of the gold medalists, from what food they like to revisiting the primary school they attended. The other athletes just fade into the background," he said.
Wang Ling, a 24-year-old tennis fan from Beijing said athletes cannot just produce gold medals.
"Our athletes are not medal machines. They are supposed to enjoy the Games and make people want to join in the spirit and take up sport.
"People feel proud for them no matter what results they get as long as they did their best. No one is a failure in the Olympics," she said.
"China used to use gold medals to prove we are a strong nation and gain respect from others. We don't need that anymore."
Olympic athletes said they are simply happy with any medal.
"Is it really a matter of the color of the medal?" asked Timo Boll, German table tennis star who has an outside gold medal chance in London.
"I would prefer gold. But I will also be very satisfied if it's silver or bronze.''
Leaving the issue of gold behind, people in China generally are giving their full support to all the athletes.
Weightlifter Zhou Jun failed all three attempts at her first weight in the 53kg division on Monday.
"I wasn't in the best condition,'' she said later in an interview. "But I really appreciate all the support and concern back in China.''
Yu Dan, bronze medalist in the women's 10 meter air rifle, celebrated her success with parents and friends.
"I am so proud that my daughter went to the London Olympic Games and won the bronze medal," Yu's father said in an interview with the Xinhua News Agency.
Xiao Hongbo, a professor at the department of journalism at Shanghai University of Sport, highlighted participation.
"China's obsession with gold medals is what makes it difficult to get the masses involved in sport. All the funding will go to those who are capable of winning the gold, but not the public.
"This (gold obsession) has got to stop. Otherwise, China may become a nation that wins a lot of gold medals but is still weak in sports," he said.
He added that there is a chain of interests around athletes who make it to the Olympics. This includes coaches and administrative staff. One person's failure to get the gold can affect everyone in the chain, so it is no surprise to see athletes in tears if they don't have their golden moment.
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Sun Xiaochen contributed to this story.