Red star over the Games

Print edition : September 12, 2008

China has delivered everything it promised to. Looking back at the gold rush, a couple of days before the close of the event.

in Beijing

CHINA has shown the world that not only can it organise the Ultimate Olympics on a scale befitting its stature but it can also assert itself on the field of play. From winning 32 gold medals and being a close second to the United States, which won 36 in the Athens Games in 2004, China has shot up dramatically towards the 50-gold-medal mark at home even before the curtains have come down on the Games.

A nervous U.S. started dropping batons in the sprint relays in both the mens and womens events to lose its grip even on athletics. Michael Phelps spared the U.S. blushes with his record-breaking eight gold medals. Phelps has won 14 gold medals in two Olympics. What would the U.S. be without him? The Jamaicans led by Usain Bolt, who won both the mens 100 and 200 metres gold medals with world records, assisted the Chinese in wrecking the calculations of the U.S.

Liu Xiang must have been a huge disappointment for the Chinese as he could not deliver the mens 110 metres hurdles gold as he had done in Athens. In a tragic turn of events, when the whole world was expecting him to beat world record holder Dayron Robles of Cuba and possibly regain the record, the world champion limped out with an injury. It was an emotional moment for the entire country as a gold in athletics is a rare feature in Chinese Olympic history, and China valued the hurdles gold more than all the other medals put together. However, the country is expected to top the medals tally.

Likewise, the Chinese were also unable to retain the womens tennis doubles gold. Yan Zi and Zheng Jie played their hearts out but had to be content with the bronze. However, China was not willing to rue its missed medals, gold in particular. It had made room in other quarters. Gold was not going to be a problem. It was difficult to believe PriceWaterhouse Coopers when it projected that China would scoop more than 45 gold medals as it was tough to figure out the disciplines in which China could show an improvement. The advantage with China was that it was not building its hopes, and a sporting empire that promises to dominate the world stage for many years, on one or two stars. It was happy to see Yao Ming, the towering basketball player, carry the national flag in the opening ceremony for the second successive time. The stars are merely meant to provide a face to the stature of Chinese sports in the global league, and it is left to the unsung heroes and heroines, who have been toiling silently and systematically for years with the help of world-class trainers and coaches, to deliver the goods.

FIREWORKS IN FRONT of the National Stadium, also known as the "Bird's Nest", during the opening ceremony on August 8. The three-hour show had more than 15,000 performers showcasing the nation's ancient history and its rise as a modern power.-BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP

The goal is gold. This can easily be gleaned from the fact that for the 46 gold medals that China has won at the time of writing, it has won only 15 silver and 22 bronze medals. China has done very well to strengthen its strong points by converting the silver and bronze medals into gold in those disciplines.

Of course, this is a not a new phenomenon though the scale is relatively much bigger. China won 17 silver and 14 bronze medals while capturing 32 gold medals four years ago, which served as a warning to the world that the dragon would be the symbol of power at home in Beijing. The explosive power required for athletics and swimming may not be that easy to master, but China has shown the way by capitalising on its supple athletes to dominate artistic gymnastics in which it has won the lions share of the gold medals, that is, nine. This is a huge leap for China as it only won one gold medal and two bronze medals in Athens. There are so many new stars. It just dug the ground from under traditional rivals, the U.S. and Romania.

When Du Li failed to win the first medal in the Beijing Games in the womens 10-metre air rifle, it was a jolt, but the champion shooter recovered to capture the womens 50-metre rifle three-positions event five days later. China managed to win one more gold in shooting than the four it won in Athens. The intensity shown by the athletes in competition and the hunger for success has been phenomenal.

In diving, China has easily surpassed its earlier collection of six gold medals, and in weightlifting it has won three gold medals more than the last time. In table tennis, it lost one of its three gold medals but has retained its stranglehold on badminton, capturing three gold medals in the sport. There were new gold medals for China in archery, fencing, trampoline, artistic gymnastics, judo and rowing.

HOISTING CHINA'S NATIONAL flag at the opening ceremony.-

International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Jacques Rogge is not surprised by Chinas domination. Like the rest of the world, he expected it to be so. This success will last as long as the sporting system lasts here, he said. He pointed out the two advantages that China enjoys: One, Chinas population of 1.3 billion, which gives it variety and a huge base from which to select and nurture world-class athletes. Second, the fact that the government has taken it as a challenge to channel revenue to project a healthy image of China not only as a sporting superpower but as a country with a healthy economy and a world-class lifestyle. It will be difficult to change that, said Rogge, as he visualised the rest of the countries fighting hard to cope with the hot pace set by China to reach the top.

The magnificent infrastructure, starting with the Birds Nest National Stadium and the Water Cube swimming arena, is perhaps the best in the world and is ready to act as a training base to turn many generations of Chinese into world-class athletes. Undoubtedly, Chinas overwhelming success in these Games and its dozens of stadia will be a lasting legacy for its youth. Rogge was able to see beyond the sporting supremacy of China, which may continue in London in 2012 and afterwards, and said that its overall growth would drive it towards being the leader on other fronts as well. China is becoming an economic superpower. It might well become the economic leader of the world. We have to understand that it is no longer a bipolar world, where it is East against West, he observed.

China coined the slogan One world, One dream for the Games and has given the Olympic movement a new direction. With its budget of 22.6 billion to get the Games going, China has set a new standard that is going to be difficult to match for the rest of the world. In fact, London has an estimated budget of 9.3 billion for the Games in 2012. Greece found itself in the red over its Olympics and just does not know what to do with the world-class facilities it erected for the world to perform in for a little over a fortnight. The maintenance itself demands a huge budget. China has no such problems. It has the population and the system in place to capitalise on the gigantic structures that are technological marvels and have become new landmarks in the world of sports.

China has delivered everything it promised to. One could not have asked for anything better in these Olympic Games. The philosophy of the Green Olympics will continue to be a way of life for the Chinese. The official machinery has decided to improve the quality of life, starting with a clean atmosphere by adopting the stringent measures that have been in vogue during the Games. The world should watch out for a healthier and more powerful China.

MEMBERS OF THE Chinese men's artistic gymnastic team posing with their gold medals on the podium on August 12.-MIKE BLAKE/REUTERS

CHINA'S WOMEN'S ARTISTIC gymnastics team, (from left to right) Cheng Fei, Yang Yilin, Li Shanshan, He Kexin, Jiang Yuyuan and Deng Linlin, after winning the gold medal on August 13.-MIKE BLAKE/REUTERS

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