The Winter Olympics were last held in Japan in 1998. The stage was Nagano, and on that stage, the Japanese athletes performed brilliantly. They won no less than five gold medals, one silver and four bronzes. Many of the winning athletes sported auburn, if not blonde-tinted hair. Some even went for eyebrows with faux tattoos painted over them. They looked carefree. They were skiing, skating, jumping and somersaulting for their own enjoyment. The pressure to win did not seem to bother them.

Fast forward to: this year’s Olympic Games in Turin, where the Japanese athletes have performed miserably. Medals kept eluding them, apart from the one dazzling exception in the women’s figure skating event. Disqualifications, tripping over themselves, last-minute illness: you name it, they went down with it. Their hair was no longer dyed brown or red, let alone blonde. Eyebrows were left untouched. The participants looked scared stiff. And they kept apologizing for not living up to expectations.

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