If you win, a gold medal
If you lose, your nation crumbles
Tonight, the hopes of a nation rest on the shoulders of Yu-na Kim, South Korean figure skating prodigy:
Figure skating is as much art as sport. Kim is a cultural icon as well as an athlete. Thus, Song said, the competition between Kim and her Japanese rivals will also be viewed as a referendum “on which country’s culture is better regarded by the rest of the world.”
Given that Kim is a national hero in South Korea, “her loss or her winning will be perceived as a national loss or a national winning,” said Kyung-ae Park, a political scientist who holds the Korea Foundation Chair at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.
“If she wins the gold medal,” Park said, “I think it will be a great boost for national pride for Koreans. In a way, it will work as compensation for past humiliations.”
The bad blood between South Korea and Japan runs old an deep. But this is a lot of pressure to put on a single athlete. Part of the glory of the Olympics, World Cup and other international sporting events is that they capture a nationalist energy that can be exhilarating. The downside comes when those hopes fall on one teenager (or in the case of Egypt, place a nation into collective depression).
The costs seem too immense–for the athletes who compete and for the millions around the world who invest their passions. Is it time to reign in the stakes?