The Games of the Paranoid Olympiad continue; however the air of unrelenting terror is only getting worse. By now, the story of how Liu Xiang, the hurdler, pulled out of the 110m race is well known; what has been less well described is how far he pushed himself before he realised he couldn’t do it.
According to the films I saw, he went through his paces and was hobbling; he discovered quite early on that his Achilles tendon was injured. According to the BBC, however, he was told by his coach: “If you don’t win in the Beijing Olympics, then anything you do for the rest of your life will mean nothing”.
So, Liu took his place on the starting blocks. A false start by a Dutch hurdler confirmed that he wasn’t going anywhere: he hobbled painfully for a few steps, then turned and limped out of the competition.
The BBC took some random shots of the faces of the Chinese crowd: to say they looked disappointed is to understate matters by a wide margin.
The Chinese athletes’ absolute fear of failure has been a feature of these games: Liu is only the latest example. An even more terrible instance was in an article I found this morning. It has the ominous title “Athlete Berated Over Bronze Medal”:
China’s state broadcaster has come under fire after a veteran Olympic shooter was interrogated on TV for only getting bronze.
Beijing’s ruthless demand for perfection was highlighted when Tan Zongliang was made to squirm on China Central Television after missing out in the men’s 50m pistol competition.
Even though it was his first ever Olympic medal, he was harried until he bowed his head and admitted he had “let his country down” for not getting gold.
In the interview, a CCTV journalist asked Tan: “In your first shot you only got 7.9 points. What is the reason for this?”
“I was maybe a little bit anxious,” the 36-year-old replied, before adding: “Overall my performance was fine.”
“But you came into the finals leading on points,” the reporter chipped away. “The result really is a shame. Feel bad?”
The reporter continued the grilling until Tan lowered his head and apologised to his motherland.
It’s no wonder that any Chinese athlete that wins gold has a look of relief, any that wins a silver or bronze medal looks nervous, and any that washes out looks terrified. I know the British ladies who lost out on gold in the quad-rowing race over the weekend were upset, but it was not going to be possible to beat the Chinese, who were obviously rowing for their lives. Meanwhile, Louis Smith, who won Britain’s first medal in gymnastics for over one hundred years (a bronze in the pommel horse) is a national hero. This bodes well: London 2012 should be an altogether more relaxed, pleasant, if less disciplined affair: good, if hyper-organised means treating people like this, then all hail anarchy!