Four Shanghai Views on London 2012

Here at Shanghai Scrap, we’ve always been sports fans. And, in our opinion, being a sports fan means being an Olympics fan. Sure, the games drive us nuts at times. The IOC’s hyper-vigilance against corporate logos that don’t have a financial relationship with the Olympics are just the start (we’ll never forget the Chinese archer who had to place yellow tape across the Chicago Bears’ ‘C’ logo on his baseball cap in the midst of competition at London 2012). But whatever. The Olympics are a blast for anybody who loves sports, and this year has been just as much fun as any other.

In 2008, Shanghai Scrap did its best to document the Beijing 2008 Olympics (both at the blog, and at the Atlantic). Alas, no invites were forthcoming for London 2012, so we did the next best thing: we documented Chinese reaction to the Olympics from the Shanghai seat at Bloomberg World View. In total, that encompasses four pieces that – we hope – display the complicated feelings that contemporary Chinese society has for sports, the Olympics, and the world in which it competes every day.

Indeed, despite the efforts by some media commentators to paint Chinese Olympians as joyless automatons performing for joyless, nationalist audiences, the reality is far more complex. The Olympics are, above everything else, fun here – as well as serious national business. I hope these pieces brought that out:

I’ll be writing more about these topics in the coming year, hopefully, and I’ll keep the updates coming here, and on twitter.

 

How many IOC members watch Oprah?

[To non-IOC members who also haven't heard of her, here's a wiki to help you along]

An official, non-China-related Shanghai Scrap tirade:

I’ve traveled widely – perhaps, not as widely as some of my colleagues – but widely enough to know a few things. First, never exchange money at an airport; two, always pack single cup packets of instant coffee; and three, nobody outside of the United States has ever heard of Oprah Winfrey.

It’s this latter lesson that I’d like to discuss, briefly, as a result of the fact that many (US) commentators are shocked that the International Olympic Committee [IOC] had the nerve to snub her and – by the way, the Obamas – in turning down Chicago’s bid for the 2016 Olympics (full disclosure: I love Chicago). The AP, for example, raised a headline announcing that “Chicago, Obama, and Oprah lose in powerful Olympic bid.” And the otherwise sober-minded Gene Wojciechowski of ESPN writes: “The two Obamas. Oprah. David Robinson. Daley. That’s a pretty impressive starting five for schmoozing.”

Yes, it is Gene … if you’re schmoozing a group of US Olympic Committee members in hopes of landing the 2016 USOC trials. Continue reading

One from the archives: The Tragedy of Yao’s Left Foot

This weekend, not long after Yao Ming’s season-ending fracture in his left foot became the hottest topic in the Chinese sports world, a friend reminded me of a post that I did regarding Yao’s left foot back in February 2008. Now, I’m not real big on bloggers who quote themselves, but I’m tied up with other projects for the next couple of days, and this post seems sadly relevant, again.

One sentence backgrounder: Then, as now, Yao’s durability was being challenged by his commitments to the Chinese national team (and the Olympics) and the NBA. At the time, I wrote:

I have no idea what would bring Yao greater satisfaction: an Olympic gold medal, or an NBA championship ring. But so long as he pursues both, it’s likely that he’ll possess neither. Compare him, for example, to Shaquille O’Neal, the NBA player who most closely approximates Yao’s girth and game. Like Yao, O’Neal is an oft-injured giant. But, unlike Yao, O’Neal has benefited from coaches and a schedule that allows his body to recover from the NBA season and playoffs (during his years with the Lakers, O’Neal always managed to get a mid-season, ahem, injury providing his beat-up body with some extra rest in advance of the playoffs). Among other reasons, this is one factor in why O’Neal has four NBA championship rings. It is also why he won his only Olympic gold medal at the age of 24; after the 96 Olympics he has spent his summers recuperating, and only now – at age 36 – is he showing true signs of decline and chronic injury. Without similar rest, Yao Ming can expect to decline much earlier.

Over the weekend, Xinhua reported that the Chinese national sports authorities are still hoping to have Yao in uniform for the Asian Championships in September. As a Yao Ming fan, I hope that he’s not – or, better yet, that he’s able to escape the commitment, heal up, rest up, and come back next year in shape to go deeper into the playoffs.

For further reading: In today’s New York Times, Harvey Araton has an excellent column that explores the cost of Yao’s national-team committments.

Anyway, back with fresh posts in a couple of days.

The Red Race

I received an email this afternoon from a friend who told me that I needed to find a copy of a documentary entitled “The Red Race,” which had aired Monday night on Shanghai’s venerable Documentary Channel. Directed by Gan Chao, a Shanghainese documentary filmmaker, the film offers stark and disturbing footage of a Shanghai-area gymnastics training center. I haven’t been able to find a complete copy of the film online, but there’s a ten minute excerpt available on YouTube complete with a Spanish voiceover. Don’t worry about the language issues, though: the footage itself tells enough of a story.

The film appears to have been released during the Olympics, which is why I must’ve missed it (along with all of the other China-oriented material unleashed and lost during that period). In any case, it seems to have been screened at a number of Western film festivals in the late summer and early fall of 2008. Those few who’ve written about it seem to fixate on the same sequence: two very young girls, in obvious pain, hanging from a parallel bar. The passage is equally engaging and disturbing, and you’ll find it in the aforementioned YouTube clip.

What I find particularly curious about the film (or, at least, the ten minutes that I screened on YouTube) is just how much it conforms to the worst Western stereotypes and fears of Chinese athletic training and – in contrast – how differently it was perceived in a Shanghai Daily article promoting it earlier this week. Whereas this English-language blog refers to the footage as displaying all the characteristics of “child abuse,” the Shanghai Daily quotes the director:

“When I took a gym class in 2007, I noticed these child gymnasts around me,” recalls Gan, 31. “I was touched by their optimism, courage and perseverance in spite of tears and injuries. I immediately decided to make a film chronicling their childhood.”

To my sensibilities, the former assessment seems far more apt. I found the footage to be deeply disturbing, and I find it hard to believe that Shanghainese sensibilities wouldn’t be similarly offended. In any case, decide for yourself, here.

In fairness, brutal exploitation of young athletes is an age-old phenomenon that takes on the national characteristics of wherever it occurs. For a very well-written (though not nearly as brutal) American example, see Michael Sokolove’s outrageously good “Allonzo Trier Is in the Game,” from the March 19 issue of the NYT Sunday Magazine. Just to be clear: I’m not drawing moral equivalents. But the NYT piece is, in its own way, a more affluent (by comparison) expression of the same phenomenon documented in “The Red Race.”

Where Fuwa Fear to Tread.

I promise that – in the run-up to Expo 2010 – I will not make a habit of Haibao posts [Haibao being the mascot for the 2010 World Expo]. But over the last five days or so, the roll-out of Expo 2010/Haibao-related material in Shanghai has been so rapid and massive, that I feel justified in writing one more post to supplement last week’s unexpectedly popular post on the same subject.

Now, I’m having a hard time keeping a straight face as I do this, but – for the record – it’s quite clear that Shanghai will be deploying Haibao in places, contexts, and circumstances wholly unfamiliar to the Blue Gumby’s Olympic predecessors, the much reviled Fuwa. For example, below, a photo taken of a newly erected construction fence outside of the Caoyang Road metro station this weekend. Hard to imagine the Fuwa being utilized in such a (presumably) inadvertant manner, much less dancing around giant digging machines:

After the jump, more photos of Haibao dancing with the diggers: Continue reading

Operate on Liu Xiang? Sorry, I’m due on the 14th fairway.

News that Liu Xiang may travel to the US for surgery on his injured ankle has produced much defensive teeth-gnashing on the part of Chinese sports fans. Here at Shanghai Scrap, we can’t help but wonder whether the Great Hurdler might have been able to run if the Chinese sports establishment had repressed its pride when this problem first came up, and went looking for a doctor who wasn’t afraid of being blamed for an ineffective diagnosis and treatment. Put differently, what Mainland Chinese surgeon wants to give the post-op news conference announcing that Liu Xiang’s surgery was successful, and he’s recovering comfortably? And that’s keeping in mind that surgeons are – in my experience – a rather cocky lot.

[For cognoscenti, this is a fine example of the "Who Wants to Take Responsibility?" scenario responsible for much of recent Chinese history life.]

So it’s almost certainly off to the US for surgery, followed by a soon-as-possible return to China attendant with state-media coverage of Liu’s Traditional Chinese Medicine-aided post-op recovery. Nothing wrong with that, of course. It just makes me wonder if this all could have been accomplished, say, two years ago, when the problem was already evident to Liu, his trainers (and probably the Politburo). Continue reading

By Comparison … London’s Already Ambivalent Olympics

I spent most of the last week in London and didn’t see one London 2012 Olympic concession. Not one. Not even a concession parked in the back of some other kind of concession. This afternoon I wandered into London Heathrow’s duty-free sporting goods shop, but they just shook their heads when I asked. I then wandered over to the duty-free British knick-knack shop, and the shop clerk looked at me like I was nuts. “A little early for that, don’t you think?”

“Yes,” I answered. “Perhaps it is.” What I didn’t tell her was that by this point four years ago, China was positively flooded with Beijing 2008 merchandise. In fact, if I recall correctly, in the immediate aftermath of Athens 2004, the Olympics merchandising machine was shifted into full production. And it wasn’t just merchandise, either. The Dancing Beijing logo was already ubiquitous in supermarkets, on bill boards, even on my phone bill. Continue reading