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‘Athletes always rise to the occasion’: Former Olympic-level competitors reflect on Winter Games

Amelia Flood
Pauline Lee studies Chinese religions and culture. She was the first woman to represent Taiwan in figure skating, at the 1988 Winter Olympics.

When Pauline Lee competed in the 1988 Winter Olympics, she made history: She was the first woman to represent Taiwan in Olympic figure skating.

“It was exciting; it was thrilling — and not in a way I would have expected,” she said. “It was the ordinariness of being in the Olympic Village and just getting to know people as people.”

She recalled seeing Russian figure skater Ekaterina “Katia” Gordeeva playing video games, Olympic champions eating bagels and scrambled eggs, and athletes trading commemorative pins.

She said Olympic athletes must balance the pressure to perform well with the need to enjoy the experience.

“I think that's absolutely critical. Taking out that pressure makes you a better athlete and more competitive,” she said.

Emily Woodbury
St. Louis Public Radio
Anthropology professor Susan Brownell is an internationally recognized expert on Chinese sports and the Olympic Games.

Lee now teaches Chinese thought and culture as an associate professor at St. Louis University. She joined St. Louis on the Air to share her path to becoming an Olympic athlete and to detail her perspective on how the Games have changed since the 1980s.

University of Missouri-St. Louis anthropology professor Susan Brownell joined the discussion to discuss the geopolitics of the 2022 Beijing Games.

Brownell said the decision by the U.S. and other countries to announce a diplomatic boycott of the Games likely won’t have much effect on the athletes — or the audience.

She competed in the Olympic track and field trials in 1980, the year the U.S. boycotted the Games and forbade athletes to compete.

“That generation became a bit cynical about the exploitation of the athletes as a political tool. And then that generation grew up and became the leaders in world sport,” she said.

“Since the end of the Cold War, there has actually been no national boycott at all. There hasn't been any head of state that has called for keeping athletes away from the Olympic Games, and there hasn't been any National Olympic Committee that has done that.

“The calls to actually keep athletes away are coming from advocacy groups,” she added.

Pauline Lee and Susan Brownell join St. Louis on the Air

Brownell acknowledged that Olympians today face many challenges, including 24/7 media coverage, politics and the difficulties that stem from the coronavirus pandemic. However, if anyone can overcome these challenges, she said, it’s Olympians.

“I think it's really amazing how the athletes always rise to the occasion, and the magic of sport, in a sense, takes over, and that's what makes us forget this disturbing world we're living in.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury and Kayla Drake. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Emily is the senior producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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