China Celebrates Success Of Olympic Games
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
We turn now to NPR's Louisa Lim in Shanghai for more on how the Olympics were seen in China. Good morning.
LOUISA LIM: Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Now, we just heard one - what you might say - woman on the street talking to Anthony Kuhn. But tell us more about what the ordinary Chinese there are saying about the Games.
LIM: Well, people are pretty much unanimous in praise of the Olympics. Almost everybody I've spoken to here thinks it was a resounding success. And today's newspapers are saying the country is still on an Olympic honeymoon, an emotional high. And I think that's true.
People are still very starry eyed following the big show that was put on at the closing ceremony. And there's a great sense of national pride, because for many people here, the Olympics was more just a sports event. And that was clear before the games when I interviewed Professor Xiung Xiao Jung(ph) from Beijing's Sports University. And then I asked him what the Games meant to the country, and this is what he said…
Professor XIUNG XIAO JUNG (Beijing Sports University): (Through translator) In modern times, China has been a backwards, weak country. We think that the Olympics is a way to cast off that sense of humiliation, to change China's international image as the sick man of Asia. That's the dream of the Chinese people.
LIM: So that was Professor Xiung Xiao Jung, who was really saying what many Chinese people think about the Olympic Games and its significance.
MONTAGNE: As we heard earlier, China is walking away with the most gold medals in this games. Surely, that must go some way towards changing China's image.
LIM: Absolutely. I mean, China got 51 gold medals. That compares to the U.S., which was next on the gold medal table with 36. It really shows China's massive investment in its sports machine has worked. I mean, many of those gold medals were in China's strong suits, in diving, table tennis, gymnastics. But it also did very well cornering many other sports, things like weightlifting - China got eight golds. It got five in shooting.
And before, I did a series on China and sport for MORNING EDITION, that was before the Olympics. And I was reporting on Project 119, where China was targeting those sports, which had numerous gold medals to offer, sports like swimming, water sports, track and field. And we saw that China did get some gold medals in those sports this Olympics.
The fruits of that was windsurfing gold for China - the first ever in any sort of sailing event. And also a gold in the women's 200 meters butterfly.
MONTAGNE: And, Louisa, in your series, you reported on China's attempt to win a breakthrough gold in rowing. How did they do?
LIM: Yes, that was very interesting. In the series, I visited some members of the rowing team. We heard about how there were 2,000 professional full-time rowers. We had coaches talking about how they were desperate to get their first rowing gold after 30 years without a gold. And they did finally manage that with the women's fours. And there were tears of joy on that boat when they got their gold medal.
But in that series, I also spoke to one young rower who was the national singles skulls champion, a young man called Zhang Liang. And we spoke about how he was totally focused on rowing. And this is what he said.
Mr. ZHANG LIANG (Chinese Rower): (Through translator) I love rowing, and I train to win glory for myself, so I don't find it tiring.
LIM: But this turned out to be a very sad Olympics for Zhang Liang. He managed to get his schedule confused and he got to his event too late, so he missed the trials for single skulls. And then…
LIM: …it's true. I'm sad to say because he didn't qualify for single skulls, he also failed to qualify for the double skulls event. So he deprived his teammate, also, of a chance to row. So, his Olympics was over before it even started.
MONTAGNE: Well, there was a certain amount of skepticism about the fact that China won so many gold medals, how much effect it will have on sports there. Generally speaking, what's the long-term legacy of these games?
LIM: Well, there's been a different varying legacy if you look at different fields. For example, the physical legacy is clear for all to see. There is a sense of pride, a sense of national unity, a domestic boost to the leadership from these results. But - and the political legacy, there has been a tightening of control. Beijing has been to extraordinary lengths to stop people from protesting during these games, so it's really underlined Beijing's insecurity and its paranoia. And when it comes down to the sporting legacy, although we've seen this very big gold medal haul, we've also seen officials admitting that China will not be a sporting superpower until more people actually take part in sort of mass sports activities. So, in a way, one of the legacies has been to underline how far China has to go before sport becomes a thing of the masses, rather than something for the elite few.
MONTAGNE: Louisa, thanks very much.
LIM: Thank you, Renee.
MONTAGNE: And that's NPR's Louisa Lim, in Shanghai.