Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Another Take...

I cheer for the Chinese gymnasts, I am happy to see them succeed. Yes, I know that most are clearly underage, and yes, I know that they've gotten quite a bit of help from the judge, and yes, I know that they are the consistently favorites. But I have also heard the story of Cheng Fei.

She is one of the few Chinese gymnasts who actually looks her advertised age, 20. When she was 3 she was 'recruited' to the Chinese gymnastics program, most likely because at that age she could bend her and contort her body better than other 3 year-olds. She was taken from her family, part of being 'chosen', and has been allowed to see them once a year since. She comes from a working family, and her success as a gymnast was there chance to make it. While she spent seventeen years of her life in a gymnastic sweat shop, her family counted on her to ensure that they didn't spend their lives working in a sweat shop. At one point she called home, begging her parents to let her quit, but they would not, probably could not, allow her to quit. She has clearly been successful, and the Chinese government has rewarded her by building a house for her family, which she got to see for the first time a few months ago.

When she cried over her mistakes in the vault and floor event finals, I have to believe it was about more than just medaling in the Olympics. Gymnastics has been her life for seventeen years, to an extent that almost no other athletes can claim, and for all the work to culminate in under-performance would be more than a little disappointing. To say nothing of the undeniable pressure from the government, and the pressure from her family. Did she earn the bronze medal with her two vaults? Maybe not, but I think she deserves it.