A smattering of news from around the China sports world today:
Yi’s exit leaves Chinese hoops floundering (Reuters, via Guardian Unlimited)
Track and Field: What are the Chinese medal prospects for Beijing? (IAAF.org)
China-born Li named top US athletics coach for guiding Lagat (AFP) [Editor's note: Bernard Lagat's double gold medal in the 1500 and 5000 meter races at this year's world championships were astonishing. Lagat called James Li, his coach, a "technical genius" for planning the strategy that allowed Lagat, a naturalized Kenyan-born American, to win two hot, humid, tactical races in the pressure of a world championship event. My personal sports highlight of the year.]
Adidas taps punch-bag art, Muhammad Ali to spread Olympic fever (Bloomberg.com)
China to host convention on sport science, August 1-5, 2008 (Xinhuanet)
Badminton: China on track for Olympics despite poor results – coach (Guardian UK)
Curling (yes, curling)
Chinese curling attracts younger crowd (China Daily)
A new article from China Daily – and a really, really close re-reading of the article linked to here on Friday from Reuters – demonstrates that the Liu Xiang/achievements-meaningless-without-Beijing-gold news report may not have been based on any new information, just (perhaps – conjecture on my part) a desire to keep Liu’s name in the sports pages as he goes into seclusion for winter training.
Coach: Hurdler Liu has yet to reach full potential (China Daily)
The aforementioned article includes the full quote from Sun Haiping, Liu Xiang’s coach: “”Officials from the State General Administration of Sports once told us if Liu could not win a gold in Beijing, all of his previous achievements would become meaningless.”
Okay, that’s still a huge amount of pressure in my book. But it doesn’t sound like Liu was given a text message about the matter last week from Chinese officials – only that “once” Liu and/or Sun were told what the gold medal would mean to China.
It’s still overstating the case to suggest his past results have no meaning, no matter how or when the comment was relayed to Liu, and it’s still too much pressure for a young man who appears to have no discernable life outside of sport because he’s been put so high on a pedestal in Chinese society that he can’t do anything without attracting attention to himself. But it’s a little less sinister-feeling than when the first reports of this comment came out last week, in my opinion.
It’s always wise to wait a few days when commenting on news reports coming out of China, especially when it involves scandal or strongly-worded exhortations…Still, the news that pressure is raining down on Liu Xiang to win gold next August comes during this American Thanksgiving season with a profound sense of too much, too soon – and, honestly, unnecessary. Reuters reports that Liu has been informed that his past results – and by “results,” we’re talking an Olympic gold medal and world-record-tying performance (2004), individual world record (2006), and world championship (2007) – will be “meaningless” if he doesn’t win Olympic gold next year.
On some other page of some other Chinese newspaper, there’s surely a note or two about how determined China is to make this a “drug-free” Olympics. And again, I ask – can’t senior sports officials in China (or any major Olympic country, for that matter) see the inherent contradiction in putting unreal pressure on a young person to win, then insisting that their athletes will be drug-free? Speculation by those who know Marion Jones well has led to an understanding that she may well have chosen to dope before Sydney because she’d set herself such a gargantuan goal of five Olympic gold medals and was terrified of coming up short. Nobody but her of course knows for sure, but it seems clear that negating all of the past results of an extraordinary athlete like Liu and putting this huge pressure on him to succeed makes the Olympics feel less like a celebration and more like a firing squad.
Liu is a good person and an excellent athlete who is a joy to watch. He shouldn’t be put through this kind of meaningless pressure. For him and for all of the athletes in China and around the world who are preparing to compete, the Olympics should be about the best of competition – not the worst of pressure for meaningless national bragging rights.
The saddest possible news came out of last weekend’s U.S. men’s Olympic marathon trials, held a day before the New York City Marathon on a criterium course in Central Park. Ryan Shay, a national-class marathoner who won the 2003 national championship in that event, died suddenly on the race course about 5-1/2 miles into the race. It’s widely believed that he had a cardiac event related to an enlarged heart, a condition he was first diagnosed with at age 14. Conclusive autopsy reports aren’t due until the end of the week.
Olympic reporter John Powers of the Boston Globe writes about the shock of Shay’s death in a story that includes many Olympic updates for several national teams, including volleyball, cycling and swimming. Powers is one to read as the Olympics draw closer – to say he’s an experienced sports reporter is a vast understatment. He’s among the best.
As 2008 approaches, we send our prayers and thoughts out to Shay’s family and teammates, and wish the best of success to the men who qualified for the United States men’s marathon team for 2008 last Saturday: Ryan Hall, Dathan Ritzenhein, and Brian Sell. No doubt Shay will be in their minds when they line up for the Olympic marathon next August.
Marathoners deal with toughest loss (Boston Globe)
The Beijing International Marathon was held on Sunday morning – the IAAF report can be found here. Normally Sun Yingjie, formerly a star distance runner for China who failed a doping test at the National Games in 2005, would have been among the entrants for this prestigious race. Her ban ended last Friday and Chinese national media is reporting that she will be attempting a comeback, possibly at the Xiamen Marathon in southeastern China in January.
Star runner’s Olympic hope still pending after dope ban (China Daily)
Sun Haiping, coach of world champion 110-meter hurdler Liu Xiang, is a delegate to this week’s Party Congress in Beijing. He’s not often quoted in English, but the AFP has an excellent story today on Sun’s advocacy of a centralized sports training system. In China, of course, winning is everything, and if all of an athlete’s needs are taken care of, then of course they can devote themselves just to training. I wonder, though, if that system adequately prepare athletes for their lives after their competitive careers are over. European and American athletes might have to “book their own hotel rooms,” as Sun is quoted as saying in this article, because they don’t develop inside a centralized government-run system that takes care of every detail of their lives. But what about life after sport? Food for thought for a sports system that has seen more than one former champion slip through the cracks of society after the gold medals were won and forgotten.
WCSN hosts an athletes’ blog for track and field – a nice read by American stars Sanya Richards and Lauryn Williams, both of whom are sure to be big stories at the Beijing Olympics:
WCSN Track and Field Athlete Blog
Jearl Miles, a five-time Olympian for the United States and a member of relay teams on which Marion Jones also participated, has released a statement through her agent regarding Jones’ confession last week to using performance-enhancing drugs. Below is the statement in its entirety as it was emailed to members of the track and field media earlier today.
Jearl Miles Clark
Olympic Gold Medalist
â€I am releasing the following statement to the press as my response to the many request for interviews:
I am upset and chagrined about the entire drug situation. I defended Marion against critics and said that I wouldnâ€™t believe she had taken performance enhancing drugs unless she said it herself. Well, the other day she admitted it and the reality of the situation has to be dealt with.
My immediate thought is that this is bad for athletes like myself, who are truly clean and run outstanding times. I feel that everyone will suspect us of cheating and look at us with a jaundiced eye.
Concerning the medals, I donâ€™t know what will happen.
Whatever the out come, I have my familyâ€™s love and support and the Olympic spirit will always be in my heart. These can never be taken away.
Marion may face charges for lying to federal agents and for using performance enhancing drugs. She made mistakes and now has to pay for them. Unfortunately, others may pay for those mistakes too.â€
Jearl Miles Clark
Five Time Olympian
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