The Things You Find When Cleaning...

Ahead of my "possible impending move," my mother's been bugging me to come by and help her clean the basement a bit. The basement at my parent's house is a big, huge black hole of assorted crap, it was going to be daunting going through my (and some of my brother's) stuff, though it was certainly interesting. Stacks and stacks of old books, letters from loves long since forgotten, the odd school assignment, tchotchkes from trips, and the type of things most commonly cherished by any red blooded Midwestern male, sports related items: sports cards, old ticket stubs, programs, and magazines. Amongst all that stuff was this:
old issue of Sports IllustratedIf you can't see it clearly enough, this issue was from August 15, 1988, which will mean the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympics will be held almost 20 years to the date that this issue came out (as previously discussed here and here). Most likely my brother saved this issue not because of the China content, but because it also includes an article on the Cub's first ever night game. In any case, the issue offers over 50 pages specifically on China.

Kaiser Kuo's great blog (Ich Bin Ein Beijinger) recently included an entry based on a diplomat's prediction of where China will be in 2025. At the end of that blog, Kaiser states:
"Cynical as I can be, nothing here strikes me as preposterous. 2025 is 18 years out still, and when I look back 18 years--funny what year that lands you at--only a complete nutcase would have foreseen the China I live in today."
As true as that is for China as a whole, its even truer when talking about sporting China. When the authors who wrote the articles for Sports Illustrated in 1988 imagined China 20 years on, the idea that the same city they were based in then (Beijing) would be hosting the Olympics in 20 years, or that in newsstands throughout the city a Chinese version of Sports Illustrated could be found, or that Chinese athletes would be playing and excelling in the United States (Yao) and throughout Europe (a handful of soccer players, namely Zheng Zhi and Sun Xiang), the authors would have been laughing hysterically. Even from the first page what shocked me was the 2 captions to the 3 pictures featured on those pages, the first:
"Two truths about sports in China: Most citizens get their exercise on the job, as this bicycling bicycle man does, and there are few indigenous athletic activities."

and the second:
"there are outdoor hoops wherever one looks in China, but the author saw none of them in use."
The pictures that went with the first caption showed a guy riding a bike near Tiananmen Square on a 3 wheeled cart piled up with kids bikes and a kid doing a headstand against a wall. The second caption showed a makeshift hoop over a grass court in what seemed like a rural setting.

Today, none of those things that were true in '88 are still true, sporting activities abound, very few people actually bike to work anymore, and there can't be enough public hoops in China. The amazing changes that have taken place in the Chinese sports world, the development of domestic basketball and soccer leagues that have a high level of competitiveness and a baseball league that is slowly coming along, domestic heroes in "big ball" sports and even a domestic track star. This year the Women's World Cup will come to Guangzhou and I'd be willing to lay down some money that men's version in 2018 will be in China. Oh yeah, did I mention that little thing with the 5 rings that's going to happen in Beijing next year?

Yet despite all these great successes, the articles do hit at a problem that, 20 years on, still exists. The focus is still on the elite few who are talented enough that they can make a career out of sports, have the money to, and receive their parent's support. Of course in a culture that so highly values educational achievement and where kids are pushed to study every waking moment of the day, parental support for athletics is hard to come by. For China to truly grow as a sporting nation, there needs to be a real revolution in youth sporting programs where people are allowed to develop and won't get discouraged if they aren't showing promise by the age of 5-7.

We'll just have to see what the next 20 years have in store for China...


Anonymous said...

yes, the chinese has soared these years in sport achievement, espeically in last olympic, we were second in gold, after america. within these years, the chinese has been involved in sports that were only played by the west, like hockey, snowboard, "snow cliff jump" what's that called? amazingly, we even made a gold or two. Thus, it's not hard to see that we will make further achievement in sport and excel more nations in medal board.

b. cheng said...

haha, and that's not even to mention China's utter dominance in the Paralympics!