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A (fake) Olympic achievement

Some friends invited us over for dinner last night to welcome us back to Xiangfan. Jenny’s best friend, Tian Jingsong (and her husband, Liu Jian) hosted the dinner party at their new home. Aware that one of my favorite local dishes is longxia (crawfish), Laodi and his wife (Tian Jinsong’s older sister, Dimei) had worked hard all day preparing this and many other dishes for us.

(Laodi means younger brother, Dimei means younger sister; they call me Laoge (older brother) because I’m the eldest of the group. Laodi, by the way, is a retired Air Force pilot, an interesting man who’s also interested in learning more about this laowai laoge. And the funny thing is that Jenny doesn’t even know their given names since the Chinese typically address each other by a relationship name.)

The table talk naturally turned to the Olympics, starting with the opening ceremony. Never mind that the 29 footsteps, representing the 29th Olympic games, turned out to be fake fireworks; digital creations that took a year to produce and inserted into the live broadcast…everyone had been suitably impressed with the spectacle. And never mind that it cost $300 million, compared to Greece’s $30 million in 2004. A certain amount of ostentation was necessary for China’s debut on the world stage.

Anyway, given all the pre-game hype about whether China can best America this time in gold medals, medal count, or both…I asked everyone about their opinion. The general consensus surprised me somewhat.

Doesn’t matter, they said. Even if China does win more gold medals (which is more important than the medal count, as all cultures place little to no emphasis on paltry runners-up), it would be just a jia chengjiu…a fake achievement. Because everyone knows the Chinese government recruits, trains and supports its athletes in a manner that is, well, downright unfair.

As I have been watching the coverage here, when CCTV lists current medal standings, the ranking is ordered by the number of gold medals. As of this moment: China–11, USA–7. On the New York Times website, since I can’t watch NBC coverage, the ranking is ordered by total medal count, currently USA–21, China–18.


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