China laments loss of injured Liu, keeps winning in Games
08/19/2008 | 12:33 PM
BEIJING – China lamented the loss of hurdler Liu Xiang, and then got back to business winning four more gold medals without him.
Just hours after the poster boy of Chinese sports hobbled off the track and out of the Olympics with a leg injury, China piled up four more gold medals, starting with Chen Yibing on rings. He moved the count to 36 on Monday, matching the United States’ total gold-medal haul at the 2004 Athens Games—and Sunday’s closing ceremony is still almost a week away.
Then in rapid-fire succession, three more golds rolled in—No. 37 was He Kexin on uneven bars, No. 38 to He Wenna in trampoline and No. 39 for men’s team table tennis.
In the last few decades, the largest gold total in a non-boycotted games was 55 by the Soviet Union in 1988. The Unified Team, comprised mostly of the former Soviet Union, won 45 in 1992. The US managed 44 at home in Atlanta and 37 in Sydney.
“Personally, I don’t think China should strive to win so many gold medals," said Liu Qinzao, who teaches at Shanghai Sports University. “Coming in second or third place in gold medals is good enough. I’m just worried that others may look at us as being cocky if we win too many."
Liu said the gold-medal haul doesn’t mean China is a “true sporting nation," although he acknowledged that Project 119 was starting to produce results. The eight-year-old plan has targeted sports such as swimming, rowing and track and field and others where China has seldom done well.
Liu also was critical of the coverage of Liu Xiang, saying Chinese television and newspapers had built the hurdler into a “god-like" figure. Liu is common Chinese surname, and the two men are not related.
The 110-meter hurdles is not a strong Chinese discipline, and Liu’s victory four years ago was seen by many Chinese as a sign they had reached equality with the West.
“This was the most important medal of all for Chinese people," said Wang Qinbo, a reporter with the Titan sports newspaper. “It’s different from pingpong or diving. In track and field, you are competing against the whole world. When Liu won we felt on top of the world. All the other medals are small compared to this one."
Maybe so, but they keep rolling in.
China’s overall total reached 67 on Monday, briefly matching the United States. After a poor start in track and field, the US won its first gold medal, an unexpected one from discus thrower Stephanie Brown-Trafton. The Americans then swept the 400-meter hurdles, led by Angelo Taylor, for 22 gold and 72 overall.
Monday’s newspapers gushed over China’s success.
The normally staid People’s Daily, flagship newspaper of the ruling Communist Party, carried the gold-medal tally on the front page of its Monday editions, but accompanied it with an editorial that urged appreciation for all medal winners, regardless of country.
“Behind the medals count, everybody’s excited to see China’s athletes in the lead, as well as American swimmer Michael Phelps’ achievement of breaking world records and winning eight golds. But we’re even happier to see the competitors from more countries and regions climb on top of the medals podium," People’s Daily said.
Such public appeals are signals from the communist leadership to ordinary Chinese not to let pride turn into more ugly displays of nationalism.
“It’s very misleading to see what the official media are presenting," said Guoqi Xu, a China-born historian at Kalamazoo College in Michigan. “People feel very strongly about winning. When the games are over, you’ll see a burst of patriotism."
It was easy to sense at the Chinese Olympic Committee’s office.
Photos of all Chinese gold medalists are arrayed across a red and yellow poster, which has room even if the take reaches 70.
“If we put up photos of all the medal winners, there would be too many," said Li Lin, who greets visitors at the media center. “So we just put up the golden ones."
Only gold seems to matter.
French coach Christian Bauer says when China hired him to help its fencers, “they asked for an Olympic gold medal."
Joseph Capousek of Germany lost his job as China’s canoeing coach a few weeks before the games began for what officials called “underperformance." Capousek said he was angered when he learned the Chinese-language version of his contract required that he win gold medals.
The Americans seem unlikely to overtake China in gold and likely have a better chance of leading the overall table.
“This won’t be the last time we see China perform at this level in the Olympics," said Darryl Seibel, US Olympic Committee spokesman. “China is making a long-term commitment to its Olympics sports. For many people this is a bit of an eye-opener. Not for us. We’ve seen this coming for quite some time." – AP Videos