From ‘I didn’t say the F -word’, 13 Nov 2011, article by Sazali Abdul Aziz, TNP
DID she say it?
As the cameras panned to a triumphant Tao Li after her gold medal-winning performance in the women’s 100m butterfly yesterday evening, retiree K S Lee was sure that he saw Tao Li saying “f*** on the television screen, something he calls “unacceptable”.
However, the 21-year-old, who was also involved in a television-related incident at last year’s Asian Games, told The New Paper’s man on the ground Dilenjit Singh that she had not uttered the swear word, saying she had said “frick” instead.
(It’s an obvious’ fuck’ in my opinion, captured in slow-mo too. Ffwd to 3.28)
Whether it’s frick or fuck, using either ‘F-word’ as a form of victorious exultation in public will spur debate over whether a vulgarity used in a such context is deemed acceptable behaviour. Maybe Tao Li intended to say ‘Fucking did it!’, NTU graduation style, or ‘Fuck YEAH!’, which is the macho way of saying ‘Yay!’, because cussing a singular ‘fuck’ after breaking a swim record is like throwing a Christmas present out of the window immediately after receiving one. What’s more bewildering is Tao Li trying to defend herself by claiming that she had blurted the euphemistic ‘frick’ instead. You don’t have to be a master lip reader to tell the difference when someone mouths ‘f – uck’ (the ‘aah’ mouth)and ‘f -rick’ (the ‘ee’ mouth) (See video above for proof, there’s no ‘ee’ being visibly uttered at all). Nonetheless, China-born Tao is clearly putting her English lessons to good use here.
It’s likely that this was out of a sense of frustration because she COULD HAVE DONE BETTER. Despite clocking a SEA games record of 58.54 s this year, Tao Li’s personal best is actually 57.54s back in 2008 at the Asian Games. Having competed among the best in the region, and even on the World Cup stage, it was a given that she would sweep medals at a less prestigious tournament, the ‘Little League’ of all international meets, and being 1 FULL SECOND off her best timing probably warrants a vocal tantrum or two. Using Tao Li as a medal-puller in this contest is like putting a shark in a pond, but it’s also possible that lacking any real competition (she was full body lengths ahead of the silver winner), and maybe even complacency, were the reasons for her less-than-ideal performance. Alas, all the f-words and water-punching in the world won’t shave even a picosecond off the final results.
Unlike Trinetta Chong’s celebratory blooper during a valedictorian speech, what’s important in competitive swimming coverage is the performance DURING the race and not after it. But cameras have traditionally zoomed in on winners’ facial reactions because for most parts of any swim race, you just see arms, legs and splashing water. In this instance, the camera has captured what could well be a viral animated gif classic. Tao has previously drawn flak for her unconventional way of ‘celebrating’ her wins. Just last year, taking a leaf out of Robert De Niro’s intimidating ‘My eyes on you’ gesture from ‘Meet the Parents’, she was accused of taunting her opponents after winning the 50m butterfly at the Asian games.
More recently, someone complained that she should ‘watch her image’ while blogging on weibo, her ‘tweets’ peppered with brusque terms like ‘lao zi’, which translates to the Hokkien ‘limpeh’. I don’t have an issue with athletes behaving like brats as long as they deliver the goods without doping themselves. The nature of swimming, or any sport, be it floor exercise gymnastics or boxing, is that you can’t excel with technique alone. Aggression, with its off-shoot behavioral tics of temper-throwing and vulgarity-spewing, is a vital part of the ‘tough, proud sportsman’ image that we’ve come to associate with combatants ever since the gladiatorial glory days of chariot races and lion-wrestling, like how you would expect footballers today to have illicit affairs and get into bar brawls other than their head-butting, karate-kicking, kneecap-lunging shenanigans on the field. Sports is really just an outlet for humans to express their inherently violent nature without getting anyone killed.
Incidentally, there’s something about aquatic sports broadcasting that gets people all potty-mouthed. Even commentator Jade Seah got into trouble for mouthing the very same expletive whilst trying to pronounce the name of Chinese diver Wang Feng back in 2008, mistakenly thinking she was off-air. (She’s doing mighty fine for herself as a celebrity still, FYI). Unlike the uproar over obscenity-spewing travesties by celebrity newsreaders, valedictorians, ex-beauty queens or a certain opposition female politician stuck in traffic, professional sportsmen are not traditionally revered as ‘role models’ here and ‘bad behaviour’ may well be tolerated, even in the international arena.
A sportsman who loses his cool to the point of hurling his tennis racket at umpires is deemed ‘competitive’ or ‘aggressive’ (a word which has both positive and negative connotations) because we accept that anger (provided that it’s self-directed) is part of his will to win. Anyone else flying into an expletive-filled rage is just ‘vulgar’ and ‘unprofessional’. Nobody gives a ‘frick’ about SEA games records anyway, and if Tao Li has accomplished much more at higher levels of competition, her outburst, though anticlimatic and mis-timed, is what any star striker would do instinctively after firing wide with an open goal less than 10 metres (or milliseconds in Tao’s case) in front of him even if his side were winning the match.