Imagine winning an Olympic gold medal – no doubt one of life’s greatest feats – then being told just moments later that both your grandparents died and that your mother is battling breast cancer. Crazy, right? Yet that’s precisely what happened to 26-year-old Chinese diver Wu Minxia, who on Sunday walked away with a gold medal – her country’s first – for her performance in the women’s 3-meter synchronized diving event. Hours later, Minxia’s parents broke the news that her grandparents had passed away more than a year ago, and that her mother has battled breast cancer for eight years (she’s now in remission). Talk about dropping a bombshell!
“It was essential to tell this white lie,” said her father Wu Yuming. In fact, Wu had called her parents right after her grandmother’s death and, as Yuming explains, “I gritted my teeth and told her, ‘Everything’s fine, there aren’t any problems.'” So, yes, they intentionally kept their daughter in the dark so as not to interfere with her diving career.
This disturbs me to no end. First of all, we’re not exactly talking about a “white lie” here, despite what Yuming believes. Second, it’s not like Wu’s grandparents passed away just moments before she was set to compete. We’re talking about years here, people! Does she not have a right to mourn like everyone else?
Of course, some things you can’t control. For example, I can still remember 24-year-old Canadian figure skater Joannie Rochette learning that her mom had died of a heart attack just days before she competed in the winter Olympics (Rochette decided to skate in her mother’s honor). But Wu’s scenario is completely different, as far as I’m concerned.
According to Yahoo! Sports‘ Martin Rogers, Wu’s story has generated major backlash against the win-at-all-costs mentality that’s so prevalent in China. He explains how Chinese athletes are often taken away from their families at a young age and placed in specialist training schools. In Wu’s case, that began at 6. “We accepted a long time ago that she doesn’t belong entirely to us,” her father told the Shanghai Morning Post. “I don’t even dare to think about things like enjoying family happiness.”
This attitude doesn’t exactly shock me, but it doesn’t make it any less sad. I feel for this entire family on many levels, but I especially feel for Wu, who was kept in the dark for so many years and not granted the right to mourn the deaths of her loved ones.