Wu Minxia had every reason to smile.
The 26-year-old Chinese diver nabbed her third gold in the 3-meter springboard synchronized event at the London Olympics, becoming the first diver in history to win golds at three consecutive Olympic Games.
The victory also secured Wu's place as one of the greatest divers of all time by putting her equal with the record for Olympic diving medals, held by her former synchro partner Guo Jinging.
Her reaction: "I think this is the perfect ending for me," Wu said, referring to her performance in the final, according to China.org.cn
. "I'm very happy to have this ending."
But that "perfect ending" changed to a perfect storm moments later when her parents confessed details of a devastating secret they had kept for several years in order not to distract her preparations for the games, CBS
It so happened that both of Wu's grandparents died more than a year ago and Wu's mother has battled breast cancer for the past eight years. She is now in remission.
“We never tell her what’s happening at home,” Wu's father, Wu Jueming told the Shanghai Morning Post, as translated by The Vancouver Sun. “We even kept the news that her grandparents died from her.
If that wasn't bad enough, Wu had the feeling that something was wrong and her parents denied it.
"When grandma died, [Wu] seemed almost like she had a premonition, and she called us asking if she was okay," he explained. "We had to lie; we told her, ‘everything’s okay.’”
And the cancer? Wu Jueming told the paper he and his wife covered up his wife’s breast cancer for eight years as she fought it; they told their daughter it was a less serious, non life-threatening condition.
But there's a reason for this. Wu's parents found such lies were "essential" to ensure their daughter could keep focused on her training, the Shanghai Morning Post said, according to the AFP
China does indeed dominate world diving having swiped gold in seven of eight events at the 2008 Beijing Games.
According to Yahoo! Sports
, "in China, athletes are often taken away from their families at a young age and placed in specialist training schools where they practice for hours every day. Wu began training daily at a diving camp at the age of 6. By the time she was 16, she had left home to be installed in a government aquatic sports institute."
“It’s been like this for so many years," Wu's father told the Morning Post, Time
magazine reports. "We long ago realized that our daughter doesn’t belong to us completely. Enjoying the company of family? I don’t think about it. I don’t dare think about it."
But thousands of Chinese are thinking about it. Enraged, they took to Sina Weibo, a Chinese microblog similiar to Twitter, to condemn what they called the parents' "white lies" as an example of the harshness of China's government-funded sports system, the AFP reports.
"Apart from making people crazy, our Olympic strategy also makes people lose their humanity," one online commentator said. "Our national sports system is disgusting," said another.
Other competitors expressed sadness on Wu's behalf.
“I was sad for her because she's here and people let her know here,” said Canadian Jennifer Abel, who finished sixth, AJC.com
Doug Glanville, who played outfield for the Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers from 1996 to 2004, reflecting on this topic in an online commentary for The New York Times
wonders what happens now that she's won the gold medals, making her country proud. In particular, he asks "what might she end up feeling if and when she reflects on what she had to give up?"
We might have that answer. After the international backlash, according to the China Post
via Chinese government-run Xinhua news, when asked if the sacrifices were worth it, Wu said, "First of all, I have not died, and I am not sacrificing the way you have described."
"Everybody has a dream and I chose to dive."