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The Political Olympics

As the Olympics wind down in London, there can be little doubt in anyone’s mind that this Olympics is about politics.  How else can one explain the string of smears against Chinese athletes and their performances – coming from unexpected sources such as the prestigious journal of Nature – all in the name of “science and objectivity” – as well as expected sources such as the NY Times – where personal tragic setbacks such as Liu Xiang’s can be made into a kind of political statement?

Nature’s article on Ye Shiwen was especially troublesome.  The editors of Nature wrote:

At the Olympics, how fast is too fast? That question has dogged Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen after the 16-year-old shattered the world record in the women’s 400-metre individual medley (400 IM) on Saturday. In the wake of that race, some swimming experts wondered whether Ye’s win was aided by performance-enhancing drugs. She has never tested positive for a banned substance and the International Olympic Committee on Tuesday declared that her post-race test was clean. The resulting debate has been tinged with racial and political undertones, but little science. Nature examines whether and how an athlete’s performance history and the limits of human physiology could be used to catch dopers.

Nature then went through the “science” of how unusual, super-human Ye’s performance and how a clean drug test during competition does not necessarily rule out the possibility of doping.

Well, here is the problem: of course Ye’s performance was unusual and super-human.  You don’t get to the Olympics without being merely normal and average. And you certainly don’t get to win the gold by being ordinary.  As  Prof. Lai Jiang of the Department of Chemistry of University of Pennsylvania wrote to explain to nature (scroll down Nature article to see Jiang’s letter) and as our own jxie also has noted, while Ye’s performance is clearly world class, it however by no means raise the specter of drug use by itself – unless one takes the position that all record setters should be accused of drug doping until proven innocent.  If one ignores Nature’s editors fancy cherry picking of facts, Ye’s performance actually falls in line with the performance (and performance improvement) of other acknowledged great athletes.

In light of this, the great length by which Nature next attempts to explain how a clean bill of drug testing does not rule out 100% drug use became even more despicable.  This is worse than guilty until proven innocent as Ye already has passed the test and is already presumptively innocent.  For Ye, it’s guilty until proven innocent beyond every possible single doubt.

In fact, all the questions Nature makes about drugs apply to the Olympics system as a whole – which means if you must attribute guilt to persons, they apply to all Olympians who participated in the Olympics game in London.  No drug testing regimen is full-proof. Even though the Olympics committee takes drug usage seriously and has instituted a rigorous program that gives the games a fairly clean reputation, a clean result is not a guarantee of non drug use.  That is a “scientific and objective” fact about the Olympics testing process.  But it is not a “scientific and objective” fact that it must be applied singularly, narrowly and in a discriminatory fashion to a Chinese athlete.  Why does Nature not also make the “scientific and objective” assertion that every one of Ye’s competitor in that pool – every other Olympic competitor in the 2012 Olympics (heck in all Olympics, dating back to ancient Greece), including all medalist from the U.K. and U.S. – is guilty to the same extent as Ye by not having failed in any drug test set for the games?

[note: the editors of Nature have made an apology of sort (scroll to bottom of Nature article linked above), and to the extent they did, I suppose it’s Kudos of a sort to them.  For more about this, see DeWang’s recent post]

Now I move briefly to the NYT article linked above.  In the article, Jacobs goes to great length about the personal sacrifices Chinese athletes often suffer to get to the Olympics, including leaving home to train in national facilities, how Chinese athletes are merely the product of a inhuman government, and sad lives of athletes who are no longer in the spot light.

He wrote:

In recent days, a tide of self-doubt and introspection about the human costs of China’s Olympic prowess has arisen amid worries that the nation’s draconian sports system is sometimes producing damaged goods. Floundering athletes can even be cast aside after their careers are over — a point driven home last year when a former gold medal gymnast was found begging on the streets of Beijing. According to the state media, 240,000 retired athletes are grappling with injuries, poverty and unemployment.

Sometimes the victors inadvertently reveal the sacrifices they were forced to endure during their years of training. Last week, shortly after winning her third Olympic gold medal, the Chinese diver Wu Minxia was told that her grandparents had died years earlier and that her mother had been diagnosed with cancer. Ms. Wu’s father explained that the family preferred to lie to his daughter all those years rather than risk harming her Olympic prospects.

“We accepted a long time ago that she doesn’t belong to us,” the father, Wu Yuming, told a Shanghai newspaper. “I don’t even dare think about things like enjoying family happiness.”

The obsession with Olympic glory is inextricably tied to the country’s recent history.

In 1984, it won its first cache of gold medals during the Summer Games in Los Angeles. Still, in the years that followed, Chinese athletes struggled to make their mark beyond sports like pistol shooting, table tennis and badminton.

The Communist Party set out to change that in 2002, when it began Project 119, a program that uses prodigious state resources and relentless training to groom potential gold medalists in sports like swimming, gymnastics and track and field.

Perhaps Jacobs should look home to see how Olympians in his own countries have also sacrificed tremendously to pursue their dreams.  It’s an open secret that Olympic gold medalist and sensation Gabrielle Douglas – at age 14, 2 years ago – also made the difficult decision to leave home to train at a better facility and with renowned coach Liang Chow in West Des Moines, Iowa.  As I wrote in a comment earlier this week,

So I have been sitting here in the San Francisco Bay area watching the Olympics. Gabrielle Douglas is a sensation in the States – as she should. One thing I have been hearing is how she – at age 14, 2 years ago – made the difficult decision to leave home to train at a better facility and with renowned coach Liang Chow in West Des Moines, Iowa.

This made sense to me. Everything you see at the Olympics, however easy it looks, represents super human efforts, talents – and sacrafices. Make no mistake about that.

All this made me think again of the propaganda we’ve been hearing about Chinese athletes – how they are the product of an inhumane system that take children away from their home!

The fact is that in China, where the country is overall poor, where world-class facilities and teachers are sparse, it is necessary often to have to move away from home to pursue one’s dream. State sponsorship is the only way of empowering some (not all) of the most talented atheletes in China.

But instead of hearing about these sacrifices, the personal overcoming of obstacles against tremendous odds, we hear mostly the inhumaness of the Chinese system….

As Dave Zirin of the Nation wrote cogently:

The spectacle of the 2012 London Olympics should be subtitled: “the bashing of the Chinese Athlete.” Yesterday, Andrew Jacobs of the New York Times published a much discussed piece called “Heavy Burden on Athletes Takes Joy Away From China’s Olympic Success.” In it, all kinds of “concerns” are raised about the toll “the nation’s draconian sports system” is taking on the country’s athletes. It tells tales of poverty, loneliness, and despair amongst China’s sports stars once the cheering has stopped. Their athletes are described as being exploited by an unfeeling government monolith that acted as a surrogate family until they were no longer of any use.

But it seems rather painfully obvious why we are seeing this tidal wave of suspicion, drug allegations, and concern for the “children.”  China is the chief economic rival in the world to the United States. Just like during the Cold War, the Olympics have become a proxy war where “medal counts” connote more than bragging rights but are a comment on the health of a nation.  China is rivaling the United States in medal counts so their dominance has to be explained in as critical, ugly, and even as racist a way as possible. The message is that they have medals because they just don’t love their kids.

If the New York Times is that concerned about the brutalization of young athletes, that battle begins at home. US athletes don’t have to navigate a state-run athletic system but something perhaps far more pernicious. Unlike China, US athletes get no government subsidies whatsoever. Their number one obstacle to the medal stand isn’t ability but poverty. As one study by the USA Track and Field Foundation demonstrated, “Approximately 50% of our athletes who rank in the top 10 in the USA in their event make less than $15,000 annually from the sport (sponsorship, grants, prize money, etc.).”

Both systems create “collateral damage.” Both systems are in need of reform. The only difference is the narrative. When we hear that swimmer Ryan Lochte’s parents are facing foreclosure on their home, or track star Lolo Jones’s family was homeless, or that gymnast Gabby Douglas was sent from her mother in Virginia Beach to live with strangers at the age of 14, those are tales of heroism and sacrifice. We celebrate their pain instead of condemning it or even being disturbed by it.

The US system also contains its share of countless broken bodies and broken lives, discarded in pursuit of gold. The ongoing sexual abuse scandal in USA Swimming is an example of this. As ESPN’s T.J. Quinn and Greg Amante wrote in 2010, “Youth swimming coaches, many certified by USA Swimming, the sport’s national governing body, have been able to molest young swimmers and then move from town to town, escaping criminal charges and continuing to victimize other under-aged swimmer….. ESPN found the abusive coaches, some of whom molested young swimmers for more than 30 years, avoided detection because of a number of factors: USA Swimming and other organizations had inadequate oversight, many local coaches, parents and swimming officials failed to report inappropriate contact they witnessed, and some parents, driven to see their children succeed, ignored or did not recognize what should have been red flags.”

Then there is USA Gymnastics, Joan Ryan, in her brilliant 1995 book, Little Girls in Pretty Boxes, wrote about the system,  “What I found was a story about legal, even celebrated child abuse. In the dark troughs along the road to the Olympics lay the bodies of girls who stumbled on the way, broken by the work, pressure and humiliation. I found a girl whose father left the family when she quit gymnastics at the age of 13, who scraped her arms and legs with razors to dull her emotional pain and who needed a two-hour pass from a psychiatric hospital to attend her high-school graduation. Girls who broke their necks and backs. One who so desperately sought the perfect, weightless gymnastic body that she starved herself to death.”

Imagine for a moment if Bob Costas or the New York Times had stories like this to tell about China. If they did, we’d know them by heart. Instead the pain of US athletes remain in the shadows. The message to all US critics of China’s Olympic system should be, “Physician, heal thyself.” The battle to make Olympic training more humane begins at home.

At the expense of focusing overly on the negatives, I make no apologies that life is hard, and that being an world-class athletes is particularly hard.  It’s not that different with pursuing to be a world-class artist, or a musician, a dancer, an actor or actress – where reaching the top is important.  To succeed is glorious.  But as the Chinese philosophy has it, with yin also goes yang.  There are many sacrifices; there are failures and tragedies to each glory.  Don’t make this just a Chinese thing.  It’s an Olympics thing.  It’s a life thing.

So writers like Jacobs makes the same mistake that editors of Nature makes. They see a potential general problem but apply it specifically and narrowly to make it a characteristic of the Chinese.

In some ways, maybe we will all someday see the Olympics as inhumane?  I don’t know.  But as long as we have the Olympics, we might as well appreciate the positives of it: the super-human efforts and paths that each Olympian takes to get to the Olympics, and the great accomplishment each medal represents.

Through competition, we come to see the common humanity that links us all – that no matter what nation you are from or what race or gender you represent, all share the same sacrifices and dedications that comes with earning a spot to compete in the Olympics…

  1. Black Pheonix
    August 9th, 2012 at 18:37 | #1

    Jacobs should also consider what Phelps does for daily training. (What I would call robotic rat in a cage kind of training. Even U.S. Navy Seals only swim about 1.5 miles per workout for training!!)


    “This regimen, which Michael does for six hours a day, six days a week starts with a normal stretching schedule, followed by one hour thrice weekly strength training. His training is centered on his muscle endurance, flexibility and enhancing his buoyancy in the water. It includes such exercises as the diagonal wood chopper and the straight wood chopper, which helped in building up strength and power in Michael’s stokes.

    Michael also does hours of swim training to achieve precise technique and timing. His swim training is equivalent to approximately 8 miles of swimming. After that comes his cardiovascular routine. Since his trainer and coach fear that regular calisthenics, such as running and jogging is hazardous to his knees and other joints, what Michael does instead is he hops on a stationary bike and pedals for a while.”

    *Bottomline: ALL serious athletes train insanely hard, because that’s what they love, and that’s their career.

    If you want to lay back, you are not a serious athlete!

    Jacobs’ negative characterization of Chinese training is idiotic. Chinese athletes, like Chinese kids, work hard or study hard, because they take their future seriously! Like Michael Phelps takes his training seriously!

    In the competitive world, those who do not push themselves don’t become the best, and have to settle for less.

    If “settle for less” is what Jacobs wants for US, he is welcome to be proud for less. But I doubt serious athletes like Phelps would agree with him.

  2. August 9th, 2012 at 19:52 | #2

    Behind every Lin Dan, Zhang Jike and Ye Shiwen, there are countless who didn’t make it. Over the years, I have met many of those who were spit out of the Chinese sports system. One thing remarkable is how almost all of them seem calm and balanced, and appreciative their experiences in the Chinese sports system. They credited the system giving them an upbringing with peer camaraderie, a goal-oriented purposeful lifestyle, and discplinarity.

  3. east2west
    August 9th, 2012 at 21:02 | #3

    People are entitled to have their opinions. Some think Ye is clean, while others have doubts. The fact is her drug test results at the London Olympics are negative. So unless there are convincing evidences to prove that she uses drugs, I think we should be happy for her and congratulate her on her amazing achievements.

  4. no-name
    August 9th, 2012 at 22:11 | #4

    Definitely it is the political Olympics. There has been a number of articles published in recent days that cast China’s performances in London in a bad light. These articles were authored by western journalists with a sporting or political axe to grind. Even our local TV show hosts have joined in on this act. For example this morning (Fri 10 Aug), one male TV host commented on the US surpassing China on gold medal haul collections which is now 39-37: “The Chinese (previously) boasting about their medal haul now have to eat humble pie”. What a crass bigot he is. He didn’t at all mention that the US team is larger and that the US team is almost like competing on home soil. He also didn’t care that China is a fellow Asian nation. He apparently was very happy seeing the US leading the medals table.

  5. Sigmar
    August 9th, 2012 at 22:21 | #5

    ‘People are entitled to have their opinions. Some think Ye is clean, while others have doubts. The fact is her drug test results at the London Olympics are negative.’

    And this is exactly the crux of the issue here: accusing somebody of doing something without proof is patently criminal, and constitutes defamation in many countries, including America. It should not be supported. Even with a comprehensive negative drug test, there are still many doubters of Ye. These are not rational people, who base what is on “opinion” instead on facts. They choose to discriminate against others without evidence, and proclaim guilt where all proof point to the other party’s innocence.

  6. Zack
    August 10th, 2012 at 00:29 | #6

    writers like jacobs are nothing but propagandists; i’ve said it before and i’ll say it again. america’s leaders are fearful and afraid, their own legitimacy is in question especially with the OWS movement, so now they must distract the majority of their population to focus on the so called flaws of other countries, specifically, the chief rival that is China

  7. August 10th, 2012 at 13:51 | #7

    Agreed Jxie.

    My post may have come across emphasizing the “negative” of the Olympics too much.

    I personally know 2 American athletes who have almost made an Olympics team (a gymnast and a pin pong player) as well as 1 Chinese athlete who did not make it to the Olympics – and they are all balanced people who cherished their experience and are grateful for the opportunity.

    Still, my only point in the post is that no doubt there are “negatives” to something as competitive as the Olympics – and to the extent there are negatives or even suspicions that are associated with the Olympics, let’s not just attribute them to some kind of Chinese characteristics.

  8. Charles Liu
    August 10th, 2012 at 14:19 | #8

    It’s a fact very small percentage of athletes achieve the highest aspiration (Olympics, professional sports, championship level wins/titles), and this fact hold true for every country.

    Again it’s our media official narrative that’s indoctrinating the masses with POV that seems to serve no purpose other than fanning America’s resurging anti-Chinese sentiment.

  9. colin
    August 12th, 2012 at 16:25 | #9

    As usual, typical hypocrisy by the developed west. They are happy to politicize the olympics for others like china but are quick to condemn criticism against themselves in the name of the apolitical spirit of the olympics.

    Google “argentina olympics ad falklands” to see how they try to put down criticisms of themselves.

  10. August 12th, 2012 at 17:42 | #10

    So far I believe this is the biggest political event of this olympics.


  11. August 12th, 2012 at 21:46 | #11


    The exiled Tibetans also would like to make this a political story.


    The political angle is that this is an exclusively Tibetan victory – Chinese be damned.

    The Chinese angle – as well as the angle of mainstream Tibetans – is that this is a Tibetan as well as Chinese story…


  12. aeiou
  13. August 13th, 2012 at 08:55 | #13

    Like I have said, the Chinese model is always inclusive while those of the TGIE is always exclusive.

    Sad for them. The TGIE can’t even accept Dorje Shugden worshippers among themselves. Can’t imagine what they will do to a Tibetan who embraced Christianity or even Islam.

    This is the true face of TGIE and one can imagine what Tibet would be like with them in charge.


  14. Zack
    August 13th, 2012 at 09:10 | #14

    yo isn’t it funny something like this riot never made it into mainstream media and this was even around the 08 olympics as well!

  15. August 13th, 2012 at 10:42 | #15

    Well, there is a hidden agenda among western press to present the TGIE as an oppressed peace loving group.

    In fact, this type of video would’t even surface if not because of western believers of Dorje Shugden!

  16. Charles Liu
    August 13th, 2012 at 11:02 | #16

    This is the latest CONTINUED example of smear by our media:


    Don’t read the article, just take an impression of the picture of Ye Shiwen prominently displayed under the headline “Dopers Caught”.

  17. Ricky
    August 13th, 2012 at 12:16 | #17

    @Charles Liu

    I think Jxie’s reply ( Ye Shiwen follow-up #17) pretty much covers this.

    BTW, .za is the country code for South Africa.

  18. Charles Liu
    August 13th, 2012 at 13:43 | #18


    The piece is from Reuters. It’s dated today.

  19. Ricky
    August 13th, 2012 at 14:42 | #19

    @Charles Liu

    The South African article carries a picture of Ye Shiwen. The Reuters article carries a picture of an American athlete.


  20. Charles Liu
    August 13th, 2012 at 16:21 | #20

    And that isn’t the only example of CONTINUED smearing, weeks after Ye won:

    From AP – http://www.idahopress.com/sports/national/column-london-done-so-prepare-for-circus-in-rio/article_5935b7fb-cf4e-5a4d-8b0f-61e2062c4926.html

    “Ye Shiwen, China’s 16-year-old swimming sensation, who swam the last 50 meters of the 400 medley faster than Ryan Lochte”


    No mention of the fact Ye Shiwas tested clean, NZTV repeated Lochte bit and

    “Suspicions were rife … What was even more mind boggling was that the last 200m of her freestyle leg was faster than what some guy called Michael Phelps”

  21. Ricky
    August 14th, 2012 at 01:02 | #21

    @Charles Liu

    I don’t know why you said ‘And that isn’t the only example of CONTINUED smearing’ when, as yet, you haven’t produced one new example from ‘our’ media. You gave one from India and then another from South Africa. You said that Reuters had used a picture of Ye Shiwen to smear her, when in fact; they had used a photo of an American athlete. I pointed this out for you, but you didn’t say anything about it in your reply.

    Now you cite this first article, from AP reads, which reads:

    ‘Another swimmer to watch [in 2016] will be Ye Shiwen, China’s 16-year-old swimming sensation, who swam the last 50 meters of the 400 medley faster than Ryan Lochte did in winning the equivalent race for the U.S. men.’

    There’s no mention of the doping accusations. I don’t see how you can cite this as evidence of continued smearing.

    As for the other article, .nz is the country code for New Zealand.

    If you do succeed in finding a few articles, there’s still not much point in discussing this further, because there will always be somebody on the internet who will write/publish a story, no matter how absurd. For example:

    Olympics: Opening ceremony a ‘mass satanic ritual’
    (New Zealand Herald)

    What is worth discussing is if something is being widely reported in the press. So, if you find widespread evidence of new and continued smearing in the media, I’d be interested in reading about it.

  22. Charles Liu
    August 14th, 2012 at 10:04 | #22

    I’m talking about the western media, which NZ is part of.

    As of today (search on Google and limit results to 24 hours), there are still supposedly professional journalists churning out the doping story:

    “Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen’s performance raised suspicious eyebrows about the possibility of her using performance enhancing drugs. ”

    Even in story on athlete test positive, Ye Shiwen is implicated:


    “heavily scrutinised five-second improvement by Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen over her own personal best”

    Matters not what sane voice there is, weeks after the sensational indictments that immediately followed Ye’s win.

    The Olympics is over and the damage is done.

  23. Wayne
    August 15th, 2012 at 05:50 | #23

    In the end these whites can moan all they want. The East is rising, the West is declining, and their bitching about this and that is just them having to get use to it.

    In fact if the West was as powerful as it was in the past, and China not such a challenge to them, then they would not be writing and saying the shit that they do. So take heart people.

    By the way here is a typical whining article by some white wanker Mark Kittow. He gets a cheap Chinese sell-out slut, has rusty half breeds with her, cos no white women would touch him with a barge pole, and then trashes into the Chinese nation:

    Of course Richard Burger of Peking Duck heartily endorses Kitto’s racist screed.

    Laughingly he Burger has just announced his first book “Behind the red door – sex in China”.

    Hahahahaha….Burger is well known as a homosexual, and I’m sure ‘Peking Duck’ alludes to his true profession —–a gay male prostitute fucking rich Chinese men in Beijing. Such is the level of ‘disgustingness’ among anti-China westerners —-pedophiles and homosexuals to a man.

  24. Sigmar
    August 15th, 2012 at 18:53 | #24


    You have to be watchful of what you say. Just because Burger is a homosexual doesn’t mean he is disgusting, he is disgusting because he is blatantly biased against China. Homosexuality is not a crime, unlike pedophilia. What you say seems homophobic, and may turn off potential supporters of this blog who are of homosexual orientation.

  25. August 15th, 2012 at 20:36 | #25


    Thanks for this. I agree… We should try to be more exact and focused on what we are really opposed to here…

  26. Ricky
    August 16th, 2012 at 01:45 | #26


    I don’t think it’s only homosexual visitors to this site that could be offended or put off this site by comments which are homophobic. Post #23 is also blatantly xenophobic. Is there a comments policy for this site?

  27. August 26th, 2012 at 05:45 | #27

    A doping test should be conducted after every final game.

    It is old news by now. I wrote the following.

    The human spirits of the Olympics

    It shows the best of us and the worst of us during the Olympics.

    First start with the controversy that the US Olympic attires are made in China. What attires are made in USA?

    Despite the no positive testing from the Olympics committee, John Leonard accused the ‘suspicious’ Chinese 16-year-old swimmer. Another US swimmer from nowhere did the same and no one accused her of doping. Guess which country is among those whose athletes have been tested positive? Not China. He represents the silly swimming coaches, but not me.

    Then the media got into the wagon as controversy sells. The ‘prestigious’ Nature magazine did apologize in the web; due to the pressures from their sponsors? Some pointed out the human sufferings of the athletes in China. They forgot the same sufferings of the US athletes and their parents. Some were bankrupt and many do not get good jobs after the game despite a fistful of former medalists making good money. At least there is no sexual abuse reported on Chinese coaches. If they have sex with a 14 year old or below, it is automatic death penalty. If we have the same rule, many coaches in US should die and we would not have clergymen molesting altar boys as part of the sport.

    Some argued China should win more medals as their population is four times ours. From this logic, India should be #2. They forgot it is not the population, but the resources per capita or GNP per capita that matters.

    China never wants to be #1 as US always wants. I’m glad China is behind in medal counts by now. The disqualification in badminton game is good. The timing is bad as it happened before. It is the rules of the game to be blamed, then the coaches who plan for win according to the game rules, and then the athletes. I would be angry to watch this game that I pay good money for.

    The better human spirits are shown by the Muslim girl. I wonder what they wear in beach volleyball. Religion needs to adapt to the global culture to some extent. The amputated athlete won our hearts. He could be the only one who participates in two Olympics in the same year. The Malaysian diver just lifted the spirit of a nation, same as the one Hong Kong won a long while ago. These are the treasures and why we enjoy the Olympics.

    There are other 75 similar articles:http://ebtonypow.blogspot.com/2012/08/a-nation-of-no-losers.html

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