My column on Saturday has garnered many comments. In this column, we will follow the questions that I received today. But first, I want to clear up a misconception. No where in the column yesterday, did I suggest or even speak about the medal haul that I believe the Chinese will have in Beijing. The Chinese Olympic committee, who has downplayed the medal expectations, will see huge gains in the medal count in Beijing. Watch the women's distances, throws, walks and marathon, and on the men's side, watch the marathon and the walks.
Let's make this perfectly clear. The school system that was discussed in VF may have problems, but as one commentator said today, " it has taught more people English than anywhere else in the world."
Well, here we go....
Yesterday, I wrote a column on the China Dispatch in April's VF issue. In the article, the writer, William Langewiesche gave the readers of VF and this blog his thoughts on a modern China and the Beijing Olympics. Langewiesche considers the Olympic showcasing that Beijing will benefit from as hiding major problems and issues with the country, the government, and a people, who he saw as loosing their individualism in this great world party which starts August 8. NO where did I speak of how the Chinese would do sportswise with Beijing.
Anyone who has observed China knows that it is focused on becoming a world power, in many things, with sports being one of those focuses. We saw, a decade ago, the product of that focus, with Chinese women distance runners, who set records, still standing at 10,000 meters, 5,000 meters and 3,000 meters. The 10,000m and 3,000 meter records are still standing.
At this time, the Chinese have elite women pole vaulters, shot putters, distance runners and marathoners. On the men's side, the Chinese have the world's best high hurdler, Xiang Liu, who has won Osaka World Outdoors and Valencia World Indoors, will be one of the best known athletes in the world. He is the pride of China.
The failure of the 1980 Olympics, in the Soviet's viewpoints, were that most Westerners did not see the glory of the Soviet system. The U.S. boycott, and the lack of Western television-or US based network, stopped much of the propaganda value of 1980 Olympics. While I abhor boycotts at the Olympics, the 1980 boycott did hurt the event and the Olympic movement.
By 1984, after the problems with the boycotts by African teams in 1976, the US boycott of 2000, and the huge success of the inaugural World Athletics Champs in Helsinki in 1983, the Olympics in 1984 had lots of pressure on the event. Peter Ueberoth used the Olympic venue to promote the Olympic movement and the good old USA like no one before him. In doing that, as well as adding a little Hollywood to the events, Ueberoth really, truly did save the modern Olympics.
1988, 1992 and 2000 all were huge successes for the host countries-Korea, Spain and Australia. 1996 was too commercialized and was once described as a " third world flea market". 2004 in Athens, in my mind, was a huge success, but the number of fans coming to Greece was severely cut down due to the fear of terrorists promulgated especially in the North American press.
My reasoning for writing about China yesterday was to give you, my readers, some educated thoughts on where China was in the present, and how they were viewing the upcoming Olympics. I stand by my comments yesterday.
I believe that the Beijing Olympics, as a showcase of World sports, will be a huge success. I believe also, that the Chinese, who are very worried about how the world views their country, will have much to be proud of--their athletes will do very well, and China will have its biggest medal haul .
The will have this huge medal haul in a state of the art drug testing protocol that will be the closest to an even playing field seen in modern Olympics. Remember, the Chinese do not want to be embarrassed, and a drug scandal with one of their athletes would be a huge disgrace to their Olympics. Do I believe that the event will be drug free? Au contraire, mes amis. I believe that beating WADA and USADA requires money, and until we focus on the elite athletes who are making real money, and develop drug protocols that can stand up in court, we will be able to deter 95 percent of the cheaters, but the final five percent will require diligence and luck.
The Olympic showcase? One of the comments recieved told me about the price that China is paying-and this was a first hand experience from someone who lived in China -for the quick modernization and goals of dominating global markets. However, the Chinese economy has had some issues, it also, with its huge growth has had quality control issues, and that questioning of the quality and safety of Chinese goods can do more damage to the country and its economy than anything else that could be imagined.
The rising middle class? Of course, one note sent to me noted that the Chinese were the most entreprenurial people he has ever experienced. I was also told how much capitalism and new wealth has changed the country. That is true, but that is in the large cities. What most tourists will see is large cities, with Starbucks, Kentucky Fried Chickens and McDonalds interspersed with Chinese businesses and restaurants.
A final thought. When my son Adam and I visited the Olympic stadium in Athens for the first time, it was beautiful to see, but there was no time for grass or trees around the stadium. It was only in September of 2006, when I returned for the World Cup, that the fields had been finished around the stadium.
Those things will probably be done when we in the media reach Beijing in late July and early August 2008. Seeing the flags of the 204 plus countries entering teams will emote feelings of awe from the 80,000 plus fans and media in the stadium. But that is not all it will do.
For the first time in Chinese modern history, the huge visiting group of foreigners will bring change on a level to China that can not be controlled. Athletes, tourists, coaches, media from around the world will meet ordinary Chinese and ordinary Westerners and give them some taste of their country, some taste of a different country or different way of looking at the world. That is the true value of the Olympic movement.
The modern Olympic movement is the coming out party as the country truly joins the world party. Resistance is futile. 500,000 foreigners coming to the Chinese capital will change China, no matter how hard the government tries to control the exchange of ideas.
In my favorite comics of the seventies, Doonesberry character Duke, modeled after the late writer Hunter S. Thompson, called the Chinese " a curious and industrious people."
That would be a good description for 2008.
Let's see what mail this blog conjurs up tonight!