The London Games are now over and the final medal tally for Taiwanese athletes was a modest one silver and one bronze — quite a distance from the Sports Affairs Council’s (SAC, 體委會) original estimate. Because of the medal shortfall, there have been calls for SAC Minister Tai Hsia-ling (戴遐齡) to resign.
Nobody is pointing fingers at the athletes themselves. People know that in highly competitive international sporting events like the Olympics, where world-class athletes are pitted against each other, winning medals depends on much more than innate skill, training or hard work: Success or failure also hinges on factors beyond one’s control. A bit of luck helps, too. There is no room for mistakes: Your opponent will take advantage of your slightest error.
Time and again we witnessed how little difference there is between these top athletes. Only last month, world No. 1 tennis player Roger Federer beat Andy Murray in the Wimbledon final. Weeks later, the tables were turned as Murray clinched Olympic tennis gold, defeating Federer in the very same venue. With this defeat, Federer not only had to settle for silver, he also lost out on the opportunity to earn a “Golden Slam.”
Had Taiwan’s Tseng Li-cheng (曾櫟騁), the No. 1 female taekwondo athlete in her weight category, beaten Britain’s Jade Jones in the under-57kg semi-final, things might have turned out very different for her. Had second-seeded Wei Chen-yang (魏辰洋) done a little better in overtime in the under-58kg men’s taekwondo bout, he might have come away with a medal. Unfortunately, Lady Luck did not shine on them that day. Yes, it is frustrating, but that is the nature of competitive sports.
The measure of success or failure for our returning team is not in the number of medals they won, it is in the sheer amount of effort they put in.
Regardless of whether they return with a medal, we should accord our athletes — Chuang Chih-yuan (莊智淵), who was among the top four in table tennis; Chang Ming-huang (張銘煌), who exceeded his personal best in the shot put; Hsu Shu-ching (許淑淨), whose palms were cut and calloused from weightlifting; Tseng, who snatched a bronze in taekwondo from the jaws of defeat; and Hsiao Mei-yu (蕭美玉), who climbed back on her bike and continued the race after she was involved in a pile-up — the respect and encouragement they deserve.
The SAC should review the competitive sports system in this country. It should focus on the selection of athletes, training, domestic and international competitions, promoting the latest developments in coaching and addressing flaws in intelligence gathering and analysis. Special attention needs to be paid to psychological coaching to help athletes cope with daily pressure and to strengthen their determination to win. What we do not want to see more of is news reports about athletes with gold medal potential frittering away their time trying to get their idol’s autograph before a competition. This shows they are not fully focused and that they lack the determination to win at all costs when their moment comes.
Then-SAC minister Chen Chuan-shou (陳全壽) followed through on his promise to resign if Taiwanese athletes failed to win 15 gold medals in the 2006 Asian Games. This time, the SAC forecast a best-case scenario of two golds, one silver and three bronzes, and a worst-case scenario of two silvers and two bronzes. In the end we managed one silver and one bronze. Does Tai really think this “grudgingly qualifies” if we “offset the silver for four bronzes”?