Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Going for the Gold

With the Olympics just now a month and a day away, the LA Times had an article about China's push for gold medals. In 2001, China launched Project 119, "a program named after the number of gold medals then offered in swimming, track and field and such water events." I knew Americans were competitive, but the Chinese are hardcore. They are also determined to show-up the West.

The article describes what many of us remember from those little segments they show before athletes compete:
Recruits are plucked from regular schools and from their families at 6 or 7 years old and placed in one of 3,000 special sports boarding schools after passing height, body mass and related physiology tests. Training is intense, and youngsters are expected to spend years doing what they're told without complaining, in the interest of regional and national glory. . . .

"Sure, other nations are keen to win gold medals," said Wei Hanfeng, editor of the Chinese edition of Sports Illustrated magazine. "But other governments don't control your private life, prevent you from dating or seeing your family, force you to live in a dorm or stop you being rewarded by sponsors."
I remember cheering against the Chinese in the 2004 Olympics for this very reason. Sitting in my apartment in DC, my friend G.W. and I explained to my roommates about how we did not want to see the Chinese government be rewarded with medals for running this kind of athlete machine. (for being the President and VP of Bruin Democrats at the time, our staunch anti-communist stance sure sounded Republican). They just laughed at us for making everything political.

Yes I know that there are "cultural" differences, there are not enough resources in China for everyone to play sports for fun, and that some parents in the United States subject their kids to the same kind of conditions and pressure as the Chinese government for sports (and theater, and medical school). And I do feel bad for the individual Chinese athletes when they lose because I can only imagine how much "shame" they feel they brought to their country and family. But I still root against the Soviet-style athletic program that the Chinese have adopted.

...And maybe I root against them to prove to everyone that I really am not Chinese. U-S-A!

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