Monday, August 18, 2008

Liu Xiang and the 2008 Olympics: There's Something to Learn Here

Liu Xiang almost made it to the first hurdle of the men's 110-meter hurdles. An old injury stopped him after a couple paces - and probably would have kept him away from the starting blocks in any other setting ("Injured Liu exits hurdles, Olympics" Sports Illustrated (Monday August 18, 2008)).

As Sports Illustrated put it:
  • "...Liu's pursuit of the gold was supposed to be one of the main story lines of these Summer Games, from Monday's first round of qualifying through Tuesday's second round, Wednesday's semifinals and Thursday's final....
  • "...For Liu has come to represent his nation's desire for international recognition and respect...."

China on Display

The 2008 Beijing Olympics haven't turned out quite as the Chinese leaders had hoped.
  • Journalists didn't appreciate China's carefully filtered Internet connections: and wrote about it
  • A spectacular opening ceremony (CNN) featured
    • CGI-enhanced fireworks (MSNBC
    • Lip-synching cutie Lin Miaoke, who stood in for Yang Peiyi after the Chinese Communist Party's Political Bureau decided that Yang Peiyi didn't look good enough
    • 56 children, one from each of the 56 ethnic groups in China
      • Make that 56 Han children
        • One dressed up in Han traditional style
        • 55 dressed up as the minorities
About 90% of China's population are Han. For all I know the Han rulers think that all Chinese really do look alike. Having grown up in America, I thought that an all-Han cast being passed off as ethnically diverse was as tacky as a blue-eyed blond in black face playing the role of Martin Luther King.

Apparently, though, those Han actors are okay. As AFP explained:
  • "...To world audiences, the opening ceremony incident may have appeared insensitive to minorities, akin to having white Australians represent aborigines, but in China it is routine, said China minorities expert Dru Gladney.
  • " 'I would not be surprised if some ethnic minorities in China were offended by this but they are also accustomed to it,' said Gladney, a professor at Pomona College in the United States.
  • " 'In the West, we are obsessed with authenticity in such matters but it's different in China. I'd guess many Chinese would not have a problem with it.'..."

Back to Liu Xiang and the Olympics (Finally!)

Liu Xiang and other Chinese athletes show that there's more to China than fake fireworks and filtered news. Having watched him warming up, I doubt that Liu believed that he'd make a good, or even adequate, showing in the 110 meter men's hurdles. But he went to the starting blocks anyway, and tried. (I posted my reaction to Liu Xiang's effort in "Liu Xiang Starts 110-Meter Hurdles: a Class Act" Apathetic Lemming of the North (August 18, 2008).)

The women's marathon, over the weekend, was another case where Chinese athletes did a better job of promoting their country than their government did. My family and I watched as Romania's Constantina Tomescu Dita ran with the rest of the marathoners over a minute behind here ("Tomescu Dita's gamble pays off - Women's Marathon report" IAAF (August 17, 2008)).

Constantina Tomescu Dita won - by about 22 seconds - with Kenya's Catherine Ndereba finishing second. But China's Zhou Chunxiu and Zhu Xiaolin did more than finish in third and fourth place.

The two Chinese athletes shared a water bottle during the last part of the race: passing it along like a baton. Now that's cooperation and teamwork.

There's Good in China

While the Chinese government has been conducting its comic-opera efforts at self-promotion, Chinese athletes have been showing admirable traits. Liu Xiang's determination was a good example - even if he only made it a couple paces past the starting block.

Zhou Chunxiu and Zhu Xiaolin's sharing of a water bottle - and a Chinese flag after the race - showed a sort of cooperation and competition that many athletes could learn from.

There are good things happening at the Olympics. I prefer to concentrate on those.
While researching this post, I ran into a few interesting tidbits. Including proof that China isn't the only nation whose Olympics didn't come off quite as planned.

The 1904 Olympics, in St. Louis, had to compete with the World's Fair. And lost. On top of that, an American won the marathon. Apparently.

Fred Lorz ran into the stadium before any of the other runners, was cheered, and awarded the prize, and then banned from competition when the event organizers found out that he'd been driven part of the way.

Fred Lorz and the 1904 Olympics: A quick look at the 1904 Olympics:


Brigid said...

*bangs head against wall*

Well, at least China isn't alone.

Good grief.

At least the athletes have class. Never confuse a nation with the government that runs it.

Brian H. Gill said...


"Never confuse a nation with the government that runs it."

Well said.

Anonymous said...


A nice movement in Olympics 2008 in china.

Brian H. Gill said...

Plastic Business card,

Thanks for the comment, and yes: there were good things going on at the Beijing 2008 Olympics.

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