six days a week from age 12, with only a few days off each year, yes zihui There is one mission: to lift more than twice your body weight in the air. On Saturday, at the Tokyo-2020 Olympics, Hou’s dedication — drawn from her family, haunted by almost constant pain — paid off. She won the gold medal in the 49-pound class and broke three Olympic records as a member of the fearsome Chinese women’s weightlifting team, which aimed to win every weight class she was competing in.
“The Chinese weightlifting team is very united and the support of the whole team is great,” Hou, 24, said after winning the gold medal. “The only thing we athletes think about is to focus on training.”
China’s sports assembly line was designed with a single purpose: generate gold medal for the country’s pride. Silver and bronze barely count. With its largest delegation to date, 413 athletes in Tokyo, China aims to top the gold medal count – even as the Chinese public is wary of the sacrifices made by the athletes. “We need to make sure we finish first in the gold medal,” said Go Zhongwen, president of the Chinese Olympic Committee, on the eve of the Tokyo Olympics.
Rooted in the Soviet model, the Chinese system relies on the state to screen thousands of children for full-time training in more than 2,000 government sports schools. To maximize its gold harvest, Beijing has focused on sports that are less prominent and less resourceful in the West, or sports that award multiple Olympic medals.
It is no coincidence that nearly 75% of the Olympic gold medals China has won since 1984 are in just six sports: table tennis, shooting, diving, badminton, gymnastics and weightlifting. More than two-thirds of China’s gold medals have gone to women’s champions, and about 70% of its delegation in Tokyo are women.
Women’s weightlifting, which became a medal sport at the 2000 Sydney Games, was a perfect target for Beijing’s gold medal strategy. The sport is a typical pursuit for most athletic powerhouses, meaning Western lifters must fight for money. And as with multiple categories, weightlifting can award up to four gold medals.
For Beijing’s sports world, it didn’t matter that weightlifting had no public appeal in China or that the fifteen girls brought into the system had no idea that such a sport existed. At the national weightlifting team’s training center in Beijing, a giant Chinese flag covers an entire wall, reminding lifters that their duty is to the nation, not to themselves.
“The system is highly efficient,” said Li Hao, head of the weightlifting squad at the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro and current head of the anti-doping department at the General Administration of Sport’s Weightlifting, Wrestling and Judo Center in China. “Maybe that’s why our weightlifting is more advanced than in other countries.”
Beijing’s focus has been on sports that can be improved with training routines, not sports that involve the unpredictable interactions of many athletes. Apart from women’s volleyball, China has never won Olympic gold in a major team sport.
In Tokyo, Beijing Tactics won 14 gold medals, beating the United States and Japan by noon on Thursday. China won its first ever Games gold in the women’s 10m compressed air rifle and secured its first victory in fencing. (The sports that China dominates are grouped together in the first week of the Games, while the United States’ strength is spread throughout the competition period).
But gold in some of China’s traditional strongholds like table tennis, scuba diving and weightlifting hasn’t come to fruition. There were even more disappointments before the game even started. A great swimmer was banned for doping. The men’s football, volleyball and basketball teams failed to qualify.
For the Chinese sports machine, all those painful years of effort may still fizzle out in the heat of Olympic competition. On Monday, 55kg lifter Liao made his competition debut as the reigning world champion in Tokyo. Hou had won the gold medal in the light weight category two days ago.
Liao took the stage on Monday with an expression that oscillated between resolution and resignation. In the final moments of the competition, a Filipino opponent overtook him to take the gold.
Moments later, 26-year-old Liao began to cry, holding her breath. Her trainer put her hand around her and cried. In the end, the red-eyed Liao answered questions from the Chinese journalists. A journalist said, Silver was a great achievement. Liao looked at the ground. “Today I did my best,” she said. And the tears rolled down once again.
The trauma of all those years of struggling with the relentless force of gravity put a heavy load on Liao’s body. “They’ve always been there for many years,” she said of her injuries. “Frequently”. But unlike Simone Biles or Naomi Osaka, famous Olympic athletes, who talked about the emotional stress of so much pressure, Liao didn’t talk about the mental cost of day-to-day living since she was a little girl.
Liao sighed. He wiped his eyes with the sleeve of his uniform. The national games were coming up, she said, and she would represent her home province of Hunan. Sports funding for the provinces depends partly on how each national performs at the Games. The Olympics is over for him. But he had to do a new job.
This article was originally published in The New York Times / translated by Renato Prelorentzou