Thursday, August 2, 2012

This ole sportin' life, it is a mean life (Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee)

I've held off blogging about the Olympics until now for good reason. 

What are there? Seven billion people on planet Earth?

I'm sure a few million bloggers have tackled London 2012 already but I was annoyed by the US swimming administrator who provided some disingenuous comments on a young Chinese swimming sensation - Ye Shiwen. John Leonard said that Ye's 400m medley triumph was "unbelievable", "impossible" and "disturbing".

It seems to be a case of too good to be true sour grapes. It prompted a lot of media comment and some great rebuttal by a British coach working in China. Here are some of his comments:
Chinese athletes train incredibly hard, harder than I can explain in words and as a coach who has placed swimmers on five different Olympic Games teams, I have never seen athletes train like this anywhere in the world.
They have an unrelenting appetite for hard work, can (and will) endure more pain for longer than their western counterparts, will guarantee to turn up for practice every single time and give their all. They are very proud of their country, they are proud to represent China and have a very team focused mentality.
Let's also not forget that this is their only avenue for income; most do not study and sport offers them a way out or a way up from where they and their families currently live in society. If their swimming fails, they fail and the family loses face.

This is not an attitude shared by athletes in the west, who – generally speaking – come from comfortable homes with average incomes, one or two cars per family and four weeks or more paid holidays per year. Your average Chinese family does not live this way.

I could list countless other differences, but the main point is that these are professional athletes, salaried to train and perform – much in the same way Premier League footballers are paid to perform in England, except they train way harder and way longer than these footballers for far less financial reward.

I hope this brief explanation helps to inform the vast majority of the British public out there, who had no idea such vast differences existed. A former well‑known colleague of mine once said we need to be out of our comfort zone more often. Well, Chinese athletes do not have a comfort zone; life here is challenging and often uncomfortable and they are now prospering because of it. There will always be "rogue" individuals in many countries who turn to "the dark side" for assistance in training, and many countries have a history of such practices, but people must realise how far these athletes push themselves every day, how much they sacrifice in terms of living away from home, with reduced education opportunities. Simply put, they want it more than everyone else.
Reading and reflecting on this reminded me of a class I took recently at Central Hawke's Bay College where I've done some relief teaching recently.

The Year 11 class I was teaching was studying To Kill A Mockingbird.

If you're unfamiliar with it - the novel is set in 1930s Alabama and deals with Tom Robinson, a black man falsely accused (and later convicted) of the rape of a white woman (Mayella Ewell). Instead it is her father who has administered the beating after he sees her trying to seduce Tom. Tom is defended by his lawyer, Atticus Finch.

It's a really powerful story that is primarily concerned with themes involving racial injustice and the destruction of innocence (the story is told from the point of view of Atticus' young daughter - Scout).

Thinking about this and the US swim administrator's comments made me wonder about things. Without any evidence whatsoever John Leonard sowed seeds of doubt - much as Mayella and her father did in To Kill A Mockingbird and then stood back in a coward's stance (he says because the swimmers can't - they'll be seen to be bitter). In 1930's Alabama I'm sure he would have been successful and they would have convicted Ye.

Thankfully the world is very different in 2012. Racial prejudice and suspicion has been answered (she's had numerous clear drugs checks) and now John Leonard is left looking like the complete plonker he is.

Yeh for Ye!!

Love and peace - Wozza

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