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Home field disadvantage for many Chinese athletes

China's Olympic athletes know pressure like no athletes anywhere. The pressure to win medals is so huge that anything short of gold, silver or bronze is considered a failure. Some call it the "home field disadvantage." From the Los Angeles Times:

Air rifle athlete Du Li was considered a shoo-in to win China's first gold medal in the Beijing Olympics on Saturday. Buckling under the pressure of 1.3 billion expectant Chinese, she choked.

The mostly Chinese crowd gasped after Du failed to get near the bull's-eye in the first shot of the final round. After her fifth-place finish, Du fled through a crowd of reporters, tears streaming from her eyes. "I wasn't fully prepared for the pressure of competing at home," she said.

Determined to squeeze every last gold medal out of the Beijing Olympics in hopes of knocking the U.S. off the top shelf, China has ramped up spending on sports psychology. (The exact figure is a state secret.) But psychologists say the Games are so integrally linked with national glory and pride that athletes can feel overwhelmed. ...

One of the biggest challenges for psychologists this year has been pre-competition anxiety. The phrase, "You'll disappoint 1.3 billion people," has been commonly heard in the lead-up to the Games. And some athletes view even a silver medal as a failure.

This is so sad and shows how the race for medals is corrupting what is supposed to be the essence of sports - giving your best. In the run-up to the Games I read a lot about China's "sports-industrial complex," that identifies potential athletes at a very young age and basically does nothing but train them in that sport for a decade or more.

These athletes often do not get a proper education and they are unprepared to compete in the real world if they fail to become sports stars. Even successful, gold-medal winners who want to retire have been forced to continue for the glory of China, under threat that their lives will be made miserable.

I have never gotten the whole emphasis on the medal count, as if that translates into something meaningful about that nation. Denmark is far from an Olympic power, yet it consistently is ranked the world's happiest place to live. East Germany was once a regular Olympic power and that nation has been relegated to the dustbin of history. -Jim Buzinski