The story appears on

Page A4

August 2, 2021

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Sports » Olympics

Fans getting more into real Olympic spirit

I DON’T know if it could change the world, but it certainly changed me. On Thursday, I watched an entire table tennis match for the first time, incidentally also my first Tokyo 2020 event.

Shame on me! I thought, that’s our “national sport.” Lunch came just as the game ended. Instead of the routine, “Here is your food, please enjoy,” the delivery guy looked unusually excited: “We won!” he said.

Then, my WeChat exploded with virtual cheers and shouts and dozens of personal messages, including my editor.

“All talk is of the game in the canteen now,” she said. “A guy on the nearby table had bad signal when watching it on his mobile just minutes ago, he almost went craaaaaaaaaaaazy.”

Some were like me, watching a table tennis match in its entirety for the first time, or watching their first Tokyo Olympics match.

I saw many debates about whether the Tokyo Games should go ahead. After all, the pandemic is not over and there is the Delta variant. Those supporting it often gave reasons like sports have the power to unite within society and among different societies, and solidarity is important in a world heavily hit by a pandemic.

To be honest, it sounded empty, until I watched that women’s singles table tennis semifinal between China’s Sun Yingsha and Japan’s Mima Ito (Sun swept Ito 4:0), found myself relentlessly searching for upcoming games, and discovered many friends who had never planned to watch any games doing the same thing.

That rush of adrenaline when watching athletes from my country fighting so hard, despite stress, exhaustion and injuries, to challenge themselves and for national pride is unexplainable and unstoppable for me.

I think it’s woven into the fabric of competitive sports, especially at an occasion like the Olympic Games.

And that adrenaline rush started with the semifinal between Sun and Ito, who had just won a gold medal with teammate Jun Mizutani in the mixed doubles, defeating China’s Xu Xin and Liu Shiwen.

What a shock! That’s probably what sent many Chinese to watch the women’s singles. It’s never a headliner when China’s ping-pong players win, but certainly top news when they lose.

I barely knew all the four names, but seeing the pop-up headline, I was checking who would be the next Chinese player up against Ito in the women’s singles; who are the Chinese players; what are their strengths and weaknesses.

Before I realized, I went straight from table tennis 101 to mastering all players’ nicknames and best strikes like a real fan.

So there came my first experience watching a game of China’s “national sport” in its entirety — a bit over 20 minutes, and Sun’s win.

It felt good! It has nothing to do with me practically — I don’t get a salary increase; I don’t get a bonus; no discount when I go to a restaurant; no cuts on my credit card bill — but I felt good!

National pride is sometimes portrayed in such a negative way nowadays in some foreign media, which is puzzling me. It doesn’t mean I hate other countries. What’s wrong about feeling good about your own country?

“National pride” didn’t always sit well with me, as I vaguely remember how “gymnastics prince” Li Ning chose to retire and start his own sportswear brand. He fell in the 1988 Seoul Olympics and returned to waves of criticism, even letters with knives asking him to commit suicide.

Then, a gold medal was a boost for a country that only won its first Olympic gold four years earlier. Losing a highly anticipated gold was like a national shame.

I didn’t understand, but I witnessed the gradual change over the years.

TV presenters no longer sound so harsh when athletes miss a step. Cameras no longer focused only on the gold medal winners. Netizens started sending comforting messages to those who fought and lost. They also started cheering for athletes from other countries, even when they defeated Chinese athletes, if it was a good game.

When 21-year-old shooter Yang Qian won the first Tokyo gold for China, it trended, along with her “lucky” yellow duck hair clips, nail polish and hair bands. Within hours, sales of these items rocketed on e-commerce sites. Some sold out.

Her 23-year-old teammate Wang Luyao posted a selfie along with an apology for failing to qualify for the women’s 10-meter air rifle final, drawing haters who questioned her timing.

Wang subsequently deleted the post, just before more netizens rallied for support, and the hashtag “Wang Luyao is still Zhejiang Province’s good girl” soon went viral with nearly half a billion views.

That ping-pong semifinal sent me on an Olympics watching spree and an emotional roller-coaster. The last event I watched was a women’s volleyball match essential for China’s team.

They lost.

Coach Lang Ping, a member of the gold medal-winning team decades ago, said: “Of course everyone is sad that we lost such an important match, but they fought hard, so let’s hold our heads up high. It’s not like you can only do that when winning, and be weighed down when losing. It’s the spirit of sport that matters. Chin up!”


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend