FAN Hong, WU Ping and XIONG Huan

China is determined to be the top recipient of gold medals at the Beijing Olympics.

The Chinese shone at the twenty-eighth Olympic Games in Athens: 407 Chinese competed in 203 events and won 32 gold, 17 silver, and 14 bronze medals. With 63 medals in total, China came third in the medal rankings after the United States and Russia; the Chinese beat Russia in terms of gold medals received and came in second to the United States. Furthermore, Chinese athletes established six new world records and beat Olympic records twenty-one times. Yuan Weimin, the executive president of the organizing committee for the Beijing Olympics, remarked that China had become (with the United States and Russia) one of the three superpowers in the Summer Olympics. The moment the Athens Olympics ended, the world media turned its attention to Beijing, where the next Olympics will take place and where the whole world will eagerly watch the next gold – medal confrontation between China and the United States.

Moving up in Record Speed China’s Record Ascent

China amazed the world not only with its performance in Athens, but also with its incredible speed in catching up with Western sports powers. In 1984 China reemerged on the Olympic stage after an absence of thirty-two years, won fifteen gold medals , and came in fourth in total gold medals won. The nation’s success excited the entire Chinese population. “Develop elite sport and make China a superpower in the world” became both a slogan and dream for the Chinese.

However, the dream became an incubus. The 1988 Seoul Olympics were a nightmare. With the Soviet Union and the Democratic Republic of Germany ( East Germany), participating in the Olympics once again, China’s gold-medal tally shrank to five. China had slipped painfully from fourth to eleventh in the gold-medal table. In 1992, China fought back at the Barcelona Olympics, won sixteen gold medals, and returned to fourth in the gold-medal count. But China remained stalled at sixteen gold medals and fourth place in the gold-medal count at the Atlanta Olympics of 1996, which did not please the Chinese.

Four years later, China achieved a breakthrough at the twenty-seventh Olympics in Sydney, earning twenty-eight gold medals and moving up to third in the gold-medal tally. In 2004, Chinese athletes achieved notable success in Athens: four of the thirty-six gold medals they earned came from traditional Western “fortress” areas: track and field, swimming, rowing, and canoeing. CNN observed that China had moved up in the medal tally in record time.

Olympic Gold-Medal Fever in China

Why are the Chinese so obsessed with Olympic gold medals? One has to understand the obsession in the context of Chinese politics, history, and economics.

First, the government’s valuation of Olympic gold medals is based on political objectives. Since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, sport has always been one of the most powerful weapons in the government’s arsenal. Sport has never escaped from the shadow of politics.

During the Cold War, the government’s politicization of sport reflected the confrontation between Communism and capitalism. After the Cold War, it has reflected the confrontation between nation-states. The Chinese government also uses sport as an ideology to unite the populace as Marxist-Leninist and Maoist ideological beliefs begin to decay and as an opiate to distract attention from severe social problems, such as corruption and unemployment.

Second, among ordinary Chinese people, China’s Olympic gold-medal fever springs from a mixture of feelings of extreme pride and extreme inferiority. The Chinese cherish the knowledge that once China was the center of the world, culturally, and are nostalgic for the glorious prosperity of the Tang dynasty (618–907 ce). They are pained by the past 160 years’ history of humiliation at the hands of the West and Japan and desire wish to restore their national pride and gain international recognition.

It is no exaggeration to state that the desire to hold the Olympic Games and to win medals is driven by awareness of major internal and external threats to the political and economic survival of the Chinese state. The Games are simultaneously a ritual of international cohesion and a battlefield on which to beat the economically advanced nations and restore China’s confidence. Competitive sport is war without gunfire. The Chinese, who have suffered significantly in the conflicts of the twentieth century, are longing to becoming winners in any kind of war, including the Olympics.

Third, the Olympic Games and gold medals bring economic benefits to Beijing and China. The IOC is providing a billion dollars from television rights and sponsorship to the Beijing organizing committee. Top sponsors, such as Coca-Cola, Kodak, and Swatch have renewed their contracts.The world’s top 500 five hundred enterprises and China’s homegrown industrial and commercial tycoons are eager to take this opportunity to advertise—and reap profits—in the most populous nation on Earth. At the same time, the Beijing municipal government is very confident that hosting the Games will bring tremendous business opportunities to the city and has promised to institute d a national lottery to help fund projects relating to hosting the Games.

China’s A Medal-Winning Strategy for Winning Medals in 2008

In July 2002 the Party and the Central Government issued a document whose title translates as “Strengthening and Progressing Sport in the New Era.” It emphasized that hosting the 2008 Olympic Games is a priority not only for Beijing but for the whole country, and said that China must grasp this opportunity to display itself to the world and to make the Beijing Olympics the best Olympic Games ever. The Ministry of Sports Ministry of Sport immediately drew up two internal documents outlining how to win Olympic medals in 2008. These two documents comprise an action plan to ensure China achieves the victory it wants, through the following steps:

Sports Participation

  • In the Athens Summer Olympics in 2004, China participated in 26 Olympic sports and 203 events. In order to gain more medals in 2008, China now is preparing to participate in all 28 Olympic sports and all 300 events.

Expansion of National Teams .

  • In order to train more athletes for the 2008 Olympic Games, the size of China’s national teams is expanding. The national teams consist of experienced team managers, head coaches, and coaches, who are appointed by are appointed by the Ministry of Sports and sports management centers, and elite athletes, who are selected from provincial sports teams throughout China. Each national team has a target number of medals it is expected to win; no effort is being spared to ensure success. In 2002 China had 1,316 full-time Olympic athletes in national teams. In 2004 an additional 706 athletes joined national teams and 1,200 joined youth teams, for a total of 3,222 full-time elite athletes training for the 2008 Olympic Games at the end of 2004. [AU 9: Can you say how many full-time elite athletes there are now, eighteen months later?]

Financial Support .

  • The government is increasing financial support for sports training, especially in those sports in which Chinese athletes have a good chance of winning gold medals. The Ministry of Sports Ministry of Sport received a budget from the central government of RMB¥1 .6 billion yuan (about US$1.95 billion) in 2000. Between 2001 and 2004 the central government augmented that budget by a billion yuan (about US$ 122 million) each year, and between 2005 and 2008 the government will spend RMB¥2 billion yuan (about US$ 244 million) each year exclusively on the 2008 Olympic Games. Therefore, by 2008 the Ministry of Sport will have received RMB¥ 8 billion (about US$975.6 million) exclusively to fund the Beijing Olympic Games. Therefore, by 2008 the Ministry of Sports will have received 27 billion yuan (about US$3.29 billion) in total. This does not include additional special funding for particular programs related to Olympic preparation. With those figures included, the total will be more than 40 billion yuan (about US$4.88 billion) by 2008.

Preparation for Olympic Competition .

  • In order to maximize athletes’ experience of competition and prepare them physically and mentally for the 2008 Olympics, national competitions have been restructured so that the rules and regulations now mirror those of the Olympic Games. The slogans are “Let the national competitions serve the Olympics” and “Training the athletes in Chinese competitions and preparing them to fight for China at international games.” In addition, the Chinese General Administration of Sport sent those among its young athletes judged have the potential to win gold medals in 2008 to the 2005 East Asian Games and plans to send them to the Asian Games in December 2006 and to the next Universiade in 2007 to prepare them for the Beijing Olympics.

Beijing’s Ambition: Number One in 2008 ?

The social scientist and Olympic scholar John MacAloon stated in remarks at the opening ceremony of the 1990 International Symposium on Sport in Quebec City, Canada, that “to be a nation, recognized by others and realistic to themselves, a people must march in the [Olympic] opening ceremonies procession. To march in those ceremonies, a people enter into communication and conformity with requirements of universalizing Olympic organizations.” For the Chinese, however, participation in the Olympics is not only to obtain a measure of recognition but also to win. Medals will bring Chinese people new satisfaction, new inspiration, and a revival of national pride. Victory in the Olympic Games symbolizes, above all, the ascension of the Chinese nation to the rank of a world sports power.

Source: Fan Hong, Wu Ping, & Xiong Huan. (2006). Beijing’s Plan for Olympic Victory. Guanxi: The China Letter, 3, 1.