1988 / 7月
Sophia Lin /photos courtesy of P.J. Chen /tr. by Peter Eberly
The moment when the sacred flame will be lit to start the Seoul Olympic Games is rapidly approaching, and the R.O.C. Olympic contingent, under the hot sun at the Tsoying Sports Training Center in southern Taiwan, is making its "sprint to the finish."
Chinese people may still be at a disadvantage compared to Westerners in their physical build and athletic environment, but the R.O.C. athletes preparing to compete in the Seoul Olympics all hope that at the final juncture they can tune their physical and mental capabilities to the highest pitch. They know that by winning an Olympic medal they can earn recognition and affirmation for their country as well as for themselves. Sinorama visited the Tsoying training center in order to report on the state of the R.O.C.'s teams in various events and the final preparations being made by the athletes.
Even though it's still classified as an exhibition event, baseball is the focus of high hopes by the Chinese public at this year's Olympic Games. That's because the R.O.C. team, judged by its third-place finish at the Los Angeles Olympics four years ago and the current strength of the other countries' squads, possesses a good chance of coming up with a medal.
"I don't want the baseball team to go through seven years of regretting how close they came," the team's manager, Lin Chia-hsiang, says with eyes flashing. "I want the R.O.C. team in this year's Olympics to be fierce as lions."
As a cautionary example he mentioned the Asian Cup series held last August in Japan. Even though the R.O.C. team finally recaptured the championship cup that it had been waiting 34 years to win back, the coaches were frowning at the closing awards ceremony and the players were silent and subdued.
The reason for their consternation was that, after beating tough rivals Japan and South Korea, the team had lost to a weak Australian squad just before the ceremony.
"We blew it because we let up and took the Australians too lightly," says Lin, who was also manager at the time, recalling a painful experience. So when he opened training camp this year he stressed that the team must work on sharpening its fighting spirit as well as on details of technique.
Even though the superpower Cuban squad won't be taking part in the 1988 games, the R.O.C.'s old foes Korea, Japan, the U.S., and Puerto Rico are no slouches and capturing the gold will be a tough assignment.
On the opening day of training P.P. Tang, director of the R.O.C. Amateur Baseball Association, sat down with the players and told them, "If you want to win, you've got to work!" Everybody's spirits were soaring and victory seemed just around the corner.
A comprehensive training program got under way earlier this year in the drive to win a medal. The twenty players that make up the team were selected in early April, and they gathered in Tsoying on April 17th to begin an unprecedented four months of preparation.
The training has been rigorous, and the results are readily apparent. Smiling, manager Lin flips through records of his players' physical abilities and answers a reporter's question this way: "Indeed they have made a lot of improvement!"
It hasn't been easy. "Training means putting your body through constant pain," says team captain Lee Chu-ming, the oldest player on the squad, who no longer remembers how many times he has trained for a national team during his nineteen-year career. In his observation, although there are few older veterans on this year's team, the players are more mature mentally. As an example, he says that in the past many players used to get together and drink a little after training to relieve boredom, but this year they have more self-discipline: they just sip tea, sing songs, practice calligraphy, go fishing, or talk about baseball techniques or life in general.
With games against Japan, Korea and the U.S. certain to be close, manager Lin concludes, no one can say for sure how the medals will fall. But whether or not their dreams become reality, whoever works hardest over the next seventy or eighty days will have the shortest road to the gold.
Besides baseball, taekwondo is another event in which the R.O.C. team has a good chance of winning a medal at this year's Olympics, partly because the competition is divided into weight classes where Orientals have a chance to compete on a more equal footing with Westerners, who are usually bigger and taller.
"Over the past two years or so at the Tsoying Training Center, I've lost over 2,400 kilos in sweat," says Pai Yun-yao, who last year won championships at both the Asia Cup and World Cup taekwondo competitions in the women's second weight division.
The final goal of her hard work is to capture an Olympic gold medal.
The R.O.C. Olympic Committee selected a roster of seven athletes to participate in the taekwondo competition. The women are Pai Yun-yao, Ch'en Chun-feng, T'ung Ya-lin, Ch'en Yi-an, and Chin Yu-fang, and the men are Wu Ts'ung-che and Huang Yao-han. Their average age is less than twenty. "Although some of them aren't very experienced in international competition, they've all got good physiques and high spirits," says Han Yu-ken, a coach from Korea who is training the team for five months. "And they've got a good chance of winning medals."
He has good grounds for his evaluation, as the team's record in international competition over the past few years testifies. They've fought their way to six World and six Asian gold medals, putting them right at the top of the country's twelve main events at the 1988 Olympics.
In the taekwondo competition at this year's Olympics, more than 120 athletes from around 25 countries will compete for sixteen gold medals in eight men's and eight women's classes. So there are a lot of medals to go around, if you have the strength to win one.
Pai Yun-yao has long been viewed as a favorite for a gold medal by the media and the local sports world. But she's philosophical about her chances. "Can I take it? I'm the only one who can say for sure."
The ardent expectations of the public have unavoidably put the athletes under a lot of pressure.
"An Olympic gold medal is my greatest dream," says Chin Yu-fang, who competes in the first weight class and, slightly built and fair-skinned, looks at first glance more like a gymnast. Her specialty is the revolving 360-degree kick. She graduated from the Taichung Provincial Athletic College at the beginning of June and packed her bags for the Tsoying training camp without even having time to go home. She trains herself to exhaustion during the day and stays awake at night thinking of how to best her opponents.
Medals are an athlete's greatest goal. Some people, though, think that since taekwondo is only an exhibition contest and not a formal event, winning medals isn't all that important.
But for R.O.C. athletes who have trained so hard for the chance to compete, a gold medal has a special significance all its own.
Huang Yao-han originally weighed 57 kilos and belonged to the second weight class, but the International Taekwondo Association gave the R.O.C. the chance to compete in only the first and sixth classes of the men's division. Determined to take part in the Olympics, Huang reduced his weight by seven and a half kilos in a single week. Dizzy and light-headed at the trials, he defeated four or five strong opponents to win the right to go. "If taekwondo is later canceled as an exhibition and not recognized as a formal event, and I win a gold medal in the second class," he says, "won't that make mine the only one in the world?"
Hitting the bull's-eye and scoring full points is the highest achievement in archery and the basis of winning a medal. For an archer who has mastered the twin demands of steadiness and accuracy, winning a medal should follow as a matter of course, but attaining that degree of mastery is difficult indeed.
Just think about it. If you want to shoot a target less than five centimeters in diameter from a distance dozens of meters away, you've got to take into account wind speed, wind direction, lighting, and the quality of the bow and arrow. So hitting the bull's-eye is no easy feat.
Last Year Ch'iu Ping-k'un, Liu Pi-yu, and Ch'in Ch'iu-yueh each scored over 1,300 points in combined distance competition, a score approaching world-class standards.
Under its rules the International Olympic Committee requires that archers must score over 1,100 in the combined distance competition to participate in the Olympics this year, and it limits each country to sending three men and three women. The standards of the R.O.C. Olympic Committee, in fact, are stricter by 152 more points.
More than a hundred archers competed at the beginning of this year in four trials to join the R.O.C. team. The final roster was drawn up in May: the men were Ch'iu Ping-k'un, Hu P'ei-wen, and Yen Man-sung, and the women Liu Pi-yu, Ch'in Ch'iu-yueh, and Lai Fang-mei. This Olympics will be a first for all of them. Ch'iu and Liu shot the top scores, with 1,302 and 1,315 points each. Hu, the oldest, didn't touch a bow until he was 34. Lai, the youngest, graduated from high school just this year.
In analyzing the team's prospects, Lin Kuei-chang, the archery coach at the Tsoying Sports Training Center, points out that it will have an uphill struggle in the men's division, where the Europeans and Americans are extremely strong, but that on the women's side, where a South Korean is the current world record holder, the R.O.C. is not far behind South Korea, mainland China, and the U.S. "The women have a chance to win a team medal if they go all out," he says.
Although winning individual medals will be somewhat more difficult, the rules have been revised this year from an overall scoring system to one of elimination and advance. The new system affords a ray of hope to the R.O.C.'s archers, who have an average of less than six years of shooting experience each.
Under the new system "less experienced archers can sometimes rely on luck to gain an advantage," says Liu Pi-yu. At the World Cup competitions last year she watched a West German dark horse who "beat a lot of top-flight competitors even though she wasn't a strong shooter herself and wound up winning a bronze."
If the R.O.C.'s archers, who are scarcely top-flight themselves, can learn something from her ability to make the best of the new system, then perhaps they do have a chance of winning an individual medal or two.
The 1988 Seoul Olympics will begin on September 17. The stadium in the lower left is where the baseball games will be held. (photo courtesy of the Seoul Olympics Association)
The R.O.C. baseball team, divided into batting and fielding units, practices pick offs and run-downs.
Are these two playing catch? No, just limbering up. (photo by Arthur Cheng)
To break up monotony over the four months of training, the coaches arranged for some exercises to music in the morning.
Huang Yao-han takes a flying leap--and hits his mark.
Five tough fighters from the taekwondo team. From left to right are Huang Yao-han, T'ung Ya-lin, Pai Yun-yao, Ch'en Yi-an, and Ch'in Yu-fang.
Taekwondo is an intense sport. To prevent injury, warm-ups are a must.
An archer can't perform smoothly in competition without a properly adjusted bow. (photo by Arthur Cheng)
The six Robin Hoods of the R.O.C. Olympic archery team. From left to right are Yen Man-sung, Ch'iu Ping-k'un, Ch'in Ch'iu-yueh, Hu P'ei-wen, Lai Fang-mei, and Liu Pi-yu.
A full ten points for hitting the yellow--that's the final goal of every archer. (photo by Chung Yung-ho)