How committed are Chinese athletes required to be to their -- and their country's -- Olympic dreams? Committed enough that a pair of Chinese parents spent eight years concealing the mother's breast cancer from their champion diver.
The AFP, working from a Monday report in the Shanghai Morning Post, wrote that newly-crowned three-time Olympic gold medalist Wu Minxia had never been told her mother was battling cancer until after winning the women's 3-meter synchronized springboard competition Sunday. Her father also told the Morning Post that he had concealed the death of both of her grandparents for more than a year.
"Wu called us after her grandmother died, I gritted my teeth and told her 'Everything's fine, there aren't any problems'," Wu's father Wu Jueming said.
Though her mother's cancer is in remission and Wu's parents were able to travel to London to watch her dive, they did not speak to her in person until after her meet--all measures Wu's father called "essential" to preserve her focus.
Still, he did sound a note of regret over his deception, and suggested that it wasn't entirely his idea.
"We've known for years that our daughter doesn't belong to us any more," he said.
Like virtually all of China's Olympic champions, Wu left home relatively early (though at 16, she wasolder than many Chinese athletes) to develop in the country's government-sponsored training programs. Her victory in London made her the first-ever diver to win gold in three consecutive Games.
Per the AFP the news was met with outrage on China's Twitter-esque website Weibo, with one user writing "our national sports system is disgusting." The Eye on Olympics position is that this reaction is probably overblown -- widespread outrage that's barely shared by the American populace is a daily feature of Twitter -- but maybe it's a good sign for reform that not everyone in China approves of the government's overwhelming devotion to Olympic glory.
The conditions inside China's state sports program are also coming to light internationally, with British tabloid the Daily Mail capitalizing on the Wu headline to publish a gallery of photos -- some of them disturbing -- illustrating the methods used in training elementary-age (and younger) Chinese gymnasts.
It's easy to issue blanket condemnations of the Chinese system -- and the implicit praise of the American one -- and tougher to recognize that, rigorous or not, many Chinese athletes are grateful for the opportunity it offered them to become the world-famous, gold medal-winning stars they are. But whatever the positives, when two parents agree to spend nearly a decade withholding the fact from their daughter that her mother might die of cancer, we hardly think we're out-of-bounds in suggesting something has gone very, very wrong.