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August 1st, 2012
07:51 PM ET

Letters to the President #1290: 'Champions...and otherwise'

Reporter's Note: President Obama, even as he runs for re-election, receives a letter from me every day.

Dear Mr. President,

Did you see this story about the 16-year-old Chinese diver? Apparently she was identified as having Olympic potential many years ago, and she trained like a fiend. She got better and better, especially after she moved into a government-run aquatic sports center. She also became more and more distant from her family back home, as Chinese sports officials tried to shape her into the perfect Gold Medal trap.

It worked. In London, she took the top prize in her event. Then came the devastating news: While she was training in seclusion, her grandparents had died and her mother had been battling for her life against breast cancer. Apparently she was not told about any of this when it was happening, because Chinese authorities feared it would distract her. Even the girl’s parents were in on the deception.

Wow.

I love sports. I love people being dedicated to what they do. But this goes beyond the pale. The idea of any government thinking that the pursuit of sports glory justifies the crushing of basic human decency…especially with a child involved…is obscene.

Contrast that with the magnificent story of the U.S. team’s Kristin Armstrong (no relation to Lance) who won cycling gold in Beijing and was pretty much retiring from the sport because she wanted to have a child. She ended up having a baby much sooner than she expected, emerged from retirement, and blew away the field to grab the top honors in London in the time trials. She is almost 39. The oldest woman ever to accomplish that feat.

Her take from the start seems to have been: Family matters. There are things more important than personal accomplishments, even on an Olympic size stage. That is the kind of competitor I can cheer for; someone who knows that there is a difference between a winner, and a champion.

Hope all is well. Call if you can.

Regards,
Tom

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