Monday, August 23, 2004

Li Jiawei does Singapore proud 

During his National Day Rally speech, PM Lee Hsien Loong also brought up the exploits of Singapore’s Olympics participants. He mentioned that Ronald Susilo had beaten the world’s number one in men’s badminton and Li Jiawei, the world’s number two in women's table tennis. Unfortunately, both are coming back to Singapore empty-handed.

PM Lee recounted telling Li Jiawei just after losing the bronze medal playoff:

There’s no reason to be sad. We are proud of you, you have done us well. Yes, you have not got the top prize. But we will keep on trying. Sports is not just about medals, but about doing our best, overcoming our setbacks, depending on each other, being part of Team Singapore.
Mr Lee was trying to encourage Li. However, downplaying the disappointment is often not the best way to provide encouragement. And Li would have had good reasons to have been upset.

First of all, Li had come so close to a medal. She had almost clinched a place in the final, at one point leading three games to one in her semi-final match against North Korean Kim Hyang Mi, who was ranked well below her internationally. And she had lost her bronze-medal playoff to South Korean Kim Kyung Ah, a player she had beaten twice before.

Secondly, at the age of 23, Li probably has only two more Olympics at which she will have a reasonable chance of getting a medal. With new, young contenders appearing all the time, it is not getting easier. Li probably has only a few more years to realise her full potential. With increasing age, her reflexes may start to decline in a few years’ time, and with it, the likelihood of her getting a medal. Remember: China’s world number one, Zhang Yining, is only 22.

Finally, to a sportsperson of Li’s calibre, winning a medal is the main point of participating in the Olympics. Especially when it comes with a monetary incentive. When Li lost the bronze-medal playoff, she also lost $250,000 promised to Singapore’s bronze-medal winners by the Singapore National Olympic Council. Not something to be sniffed at.

In the winner-takes-all world of sports, you don’t get anything for coming close — except maybe sympathy. Li, like her compatriot Jing Junhong four years ago, will be returning to Singapore empty-handed despite reaching the semi-finals of the table tennis competition.

Nevertheless, Singaporeans have unanimously expressed gratitude and support for Li. The Singapore sports authorities will, hopefully for her sake, provide a more tangible expression of that gratitude.


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