27 October 2016
China's women's volleyball team came from behind to win the gold at Rio. Photo: Xinhua
China's women's volleyball team came from behind to win the gold at Rio. Photo: Xinhua

What we’ve learned from Rio’s winners and losers

Even Golden Boy Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time, did not win in all the swimming events.

And so as the last notes of samba linger in our ears with the end of the Rio carnival, let us salute not only the winners but also those who competed but did not bring home any medals.

If there is anything that the Games can teach us about life, it is that winning, though important, is not what it is all about.

Giving our darnest best while playing fair and square is what matters most in sports and in life. 

Just take patriotism for example. There’s been much talk that many Hongkongers were no longer as thrilled as before about the Chinese delegation to the Olympics amid the cross-border political tensions.

But who among us in Hong Kong who were following the Games didn’t cheer for the national women’s volleyball team as they came from behind to snatch the coveted gold?

Honestly, no one would have thought they could win; the Chinese team were anything but consistent.

But before they won, they lost – a lot.

They lost the first game to the Netherlands before defeating them in the semi-final and eventually crushing Serbia to take the center of the women’s volleyball medal podium.

Everyone was happy to see the return of coach Jenny Lang Ping, the “iron-hammer” of the 1980s who put the Chinese women’s team on the world map.

At Rio, she became the first person to win gold both as a player and a coach.

Since winning in the ’80s, the team bore the enormous pressure of a billion hopes for a women’s volleyball gold.

They continued to do well in the ’90s with Lang leading the team to a silver medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

But Lang’s patriotism was questioned after she was hired to coach the US women’s volleyball team and led the Americans to a silver medal in, of all tournaments, the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The Chinese team continued to suffer a drought – until they got Lang back last year.

She pulled the team together, led the campaign in Rio, and the rest is history.

Equally inspiring was Lee Chong Wai, a Malaysian badminton player who’s been dubbed “Forever No. 2” because he always lost to his No. 1 rival and good friend, China’s Lin Dan.

Last Friday, it was payback time for Lee as he edged out Lin in a semi-final encounter that was described as the most nerve-racking in the Olympics.

But just when everyone thought the gold would be a breeze, he lost to China’s Chen Long in the final.

Heartbreaking for Lee, but that is life – so full of twists and turns.

What matters is that you play your heart out: that’s the Olympic spirit.

Then, of course, we have our very own Sarah Lee Wai-sze, who tried to play down the crash she had with her good friend Australia’s Anna Meares and suffered great pains without uttering a single word.

Hong Kong’s darling track cyclist had been practicing diligently for the Olympics but ended up with no medal at all after losing to Germany’s Kristina Vogel who went on to win the keirin gold.

But could anyone say all her four years of blood, sweat and tears had been for naught? Of course, not.

For in her defeat, she has shown us how to accept and deal with life’s challenges.

Surely, her performances at Rio and elsewhere will inspire a lot of Hong Kong youngsters to strive harder and do their best in whatever endeavor they have chosen for themselves.

Sarah, your loss will only make you better. Do four more years for us, alright?

Sarah Lee offers a sharp contrast to Sun Yang, China’s swimming hero who got into a war of words with his competitors at Rio.

Sun hit back at his critics: “I am the king and I am the new world.”

Guess what, the king caught the flu and lost in the 1,500-meter freestyle.

We’re certainly not gloating over his defeat, but it just goes to show that there’s a lot to gain from taking a pill called humility.

All in all, despite the hiccups, it was a great show, and has provided a lot of positive energy around the world.

For Hong Kong, the Olympics came just in time like the rains to cool off the hot summer.

Thank you, Rio. We’re already looking forward to Tokyo 2020.

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Sarah Lee Wai-sze (left) crashes in the semi-finals of the women’s keirin, while Malaysias’ Lee Chong Wai shows his winning form. Photo: Xinhua

EJ Insight writer

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