Just imagine the pressure. The weight of a nation's expectations is on your shoulders, one fifth of humanity is cheering you on. And then you lose.
On the shooting range, the tears flowed. On the fencing mat and the badminton court, all that pent-up expectation became intolerable.
Now, say the media, bloggers and the man on the street, it is time to cut them some slack.
Du Li was hot favourite to land the first gold of the Games in the women's 10m air rifle. She failed to finish among the medals and left the stadium too heartbroken to speak.
On China Central Television, she choked back the tears, telling viewers: "I wanted so much to see the national flag hoisted from the podium. I tried my best."
Don't worry, said one blogger trying to raise her spirits: "I've heard all hosts of recent Olympic Games failed to clinch the first gold so why should you be the exception?"
Zhua Qinan wept on the podium when he had to settle for silver in the men's 10m air rifle.
Another blogger, cited by China's official Xinhua news agency, told him: "Don't cry, my hero. No athlete has kept the title in consecutive Games. You have many opportunities in the future."
"No matter what happens, we will love you forever," another blogger told fencer Tan Xue after her loss.
For Austrian skier Franz Klammer in Innsbruck, for Australian runner Cathy Freeman in Sydney, it was all about focus. They had to shake off any thoughts about a nation longing for victory.
World champion Liu Xiang will have to do just that in the 110 metre hurdles.
The China Youth Daily argued it was time to stop putting so much pressure on the hunt for gold at the hometown Games.
"We need to develop the confidence, rationality, openness and tolerance appropriate to citizens of a fast-growing emerging nation," it said. "Being a good host is both more meaningful and gratifying than merely notching up gold medals."
The man in the street tended to agree.
"What is important is to show China and to show Beijing to the whole world," said local businessman Sun Weiming, 46, eating in a Beijing restaurant with friends.
"Several months ago, everyone was talking about Tibet, but foreigners need to know the truth about China, and we believe that through the Olympic Games the world will know the truth."