The effect of public pressure on top-level athletes is tricky to judge. Earlier this month I mentioned Chinese hurdler Liu Xiang and what he’s facing these days. It seems like a serious burden to me, but of course my ideas of athletic pressure were formed in the crucible of the Des Moines metro league’s ’88-’89 season. For the perspective of someone whose athletic glory (if you’ll indulge me) didn’t top out at middle school basketball, here’s what Chinese table tennis hero Deng Yaping had to say on the subject this week (via AFP):
BEIJING — Despite home advantage, Chinese athletes will suffer at the Beijing Olympics because of pressure from their own fans, former world and Olympic table tennis champion Deng Yaping said Tuesday.
Deng, a sporting icon who dominated women’s table tennis during the 1990s, said it was “fair enough” for Chinese fans to demand more success than ever before from their team at the August 8-24 Games.
“I know a lot of the Chinese people… want Chinese athletes to win more medals, which is fair enough because most of the previous host countries have done a good job of winning more medals than ever before in their history,” said Deng, who won four gold medals at the 1992 and 1996 Olympics.
But from the athletes’ point of view, “the disadvantage is that they have great pressure,” said Deng.
Ping pong might not immediately equate with pressure to a foreign observer. But it is a huge deal here, as (disclosure, my former classmate) Mary Nicole Nazzaro explains on her Beijing Olympics Blog. If anyone has a sense of what stars like Liu Xiang are going through it is Deng.