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Home  /  Inside China  /  China sums up its Olympic performance in a sweet & bitter flavor
China sums up its Olympic performance in a sweet & bitter flavor print version
zhang_wenxiu_528While the Olympics are always good fuel for national pride, mixed emotions take over the Chinese hearts when looking back at the London Olympics: Great medal achievements, yet inferior to the US; complete dominance in several sports, but uncertainty whether these competitions would remain Olympic events in the future; glorious moments but some extraordinary failures (Liu Xiang?). Above all a bitter taste of victimhood seems to fill to mouths of politicians, athletes and netizens, particularly when discussing the refereeing in London 2012.
After the intense nationalistic Olympic battles of the 1970-1980s between US and the USSR (with some enforcement by East Germany), it seems that China has firmly established its role as the greatest competitor of the US in the medal list. China's success in Beijing was not coincidental nor only reflecting the strong tail wind of the host nation. China continues to invest heavily in Olympic sports and results are impressive: 88 medals, among which 38 are golden, make London 2012 the most successful Olympics for China after Beijing 2008.

The Chinese media and sport officials are proud with the title 'the most successful Olympics overseas', but they also need to swallow this pride after saying this. Pretentious hopes to improve the Beijing results (ignoring the strong impact of the 'host nation' which Britain also demonstrated this time around), or at least not turn the crown over to the US. Still, people in China who know sports, including the head of the Olympic delegation Liu Peng (刘鹏), acknowledge that they 'cannot be too greedy'.

This notwithstanding, a serious analysis of the failures in these Olympics is still in place. In gymnastics (ticao) China dropped from 9 golds in Beijing to only four in London, while in weightlifting (juzhong) the 8 from Beijing were replaced by only 5 in London 2012. In swimming the results were more consistent with 2008, while in the 'highlight of the Olympics', athletics, China is still not in the league of US, Jamaica, Kenya, Russia or even Britain. China won one gold medal by Chen Ding and even that was achieved in Walking (20 km)...

China still feels at in the ping-pong (乒乓 pingpang) and badminton (羽毛球 yumaoqiu) stadiums, which in short are referred to as 'pingyu' (乒羽). China's dominance in these events continues to be outstanding with 14 medals, including 9 gold (maximum possible). However, even this success does not keep the officials in the Chinese Olympic Committee satisfied. Since these sports only entered the Olympic games in 1988 and are far from being popular sports, particularly badminton) outside East Asia, some fear that the International Olympic Committee bids farewell to pingyu prior to Rio 2016 (the events of the Olympics are announced three years in advance, i.e summer 2013).

London 2012 did not do good service to badminton, even if it gave this sport its biggest publicity ever, as Wang Xiaoli and Yu Yang were one of four Asian couples to be disqualified from the competitions. These couples tried to lose in purpose in order to avoid a clash with fierce opponents (who were also Chinese) in the following round, thus 'disrespecting the Olympic spirit'. Although the fault lies in the system of competition, which can be easily changed, the International Olympic Committee will perhaps decide to abolish this event altogether.

Concerns of sportsmen in China intertwine with a bitter feeling of victimhood. From the most laymen netizens to the deputy of the Ministry of Sports Cai Zhenhua (a former ping-pong player), China complains about bad refereeing and 'unfair treatment' of its athletes. Local voices portray an unfavorable climate by where Western powers prefer to see China fail at the games. The badminton scandal did not do much damage, since China's feather-ball squad is deep enough, but in other occasions the ruling of referees did not come in favor of the dragon descendants. Gymnast Chen Yibing got a questionable grade on the rings that prevented him from winning gold. Hammer (lianqiu) thrower Zhang Wenxiu lost her bronze position (rightfully) after German thrower Betty Heidler appealed over the distance measured for her throw. Many more examples exist. In no case China can say that a specific decision was 100% unjustified, but these incidents aggregate to produce a sense of frustration.

Zhang Wenxiu (张文秀) celebrating her bronze in Hammer, an hour before the medal was stripped off from her in favor of Betty Heidler. Nevertheless, 51 of China's 88 medals were won by women (Photo by EPA)

The Chinese Global Times took this feeling 10 steps forward, publishing a passive-aggressive editorial about the fact that while Western athletes allow themselves to complain freely and put pressure on referees, the Chinese are over-respective of the 'Olympic spirit' and manifest the Chinese 'natural restraint'. While the (obvious) sub-text criticizes the foreign athletes, it does not give any example to illustrate its point. Furthermore, in an unintentional amusing paraphrase on the public and academic debates that took place in China in the early 20th century (in much more serious contexts), it returns to discuss the importance that Chinese 'stand up proudly' and 'learn from the foreigners how to demand what belongs to them'.

In this crazy world, where China is a superpower seeking global superiority while at the same time it is an underdeveloped country with a fierce inferiority complex, mixed emotions concerning the performance of local athletes on the high Olympic platform are bound to emerge. Nevertheless, when returning to the core of this event, the sports, China can be proud to reap what it sowed in the last decade in terms of sport infrastructure and training.

Assisting source: 中国奥运军团:项目结构继续调 体育管理必须改,环球时报

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