Under Pressure

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It’s hard to feel bad for Chinese hurdler Liu Xiang. He has the world record in the 110 meters, an Olympic gold from Athens, a world championship crown from Osaka last fall and his face on every other billboard, bus and Coke can in China. Still you have to worry for the guy. In November one of his coaches announced that if Liu doesn’t win gold at the Beijing Olympics this August, “all of his previous achievements would become meaningless.”

Now a new government-sponsored Web survey has listed gold for Liu as the top desire of Olympic fans for the Beijing Games, topping seeing the opening and closing ceremonies, smooth traffic or even “a successful Olympics.” Web surveys are inherently skewed. And this one lacks a few obvious hopes for the Olympics, like clean air. But I’m not sure any of that will help Liu feel any more calm. To some his success or failure as an athlete, and even the success or failure of the Summer Olympics, will be determined by what happens over 13 or so seconds one evening in August. No pressure or anything.

Liu seems remarkably relaxed about his situation. He’s an affable, confident guy, which is part of what has made him such a hero in China. He thrived under similar pressure at the world championships last year. He’s pointed out that the Olympics are just another in a series of high level, high pressure competitions that are the life of a top athlete. He even said he’d prefer to run in an Olympic Games every year, rather than wait four. Now that’s stress.

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