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Chinese fall hard for sportsmanship, heroism at Olympics
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20:46, August 21, 2008

For host China, the Beijing Olympic Games are more than a sports rally -- it is rather a grand gathering of the world's most-loved heroes who, with or without a medal, have made the Games so much better with their unyielding will.

Never before have the 1.3 billion Chinese been so wild with excitement, to watch worldwide athletes play at the Games so close to their home.

The domestic crowd have gone wild with American superfish Michael Phelps throughout his way to all-eight Olympic golds and seven new world records, and with Jamaica's double gold sprinter Usain Bolt.

Sad as they are without their national icon Liu Xiang in the 110m hurdles final, the Chinese are waiting to witness Cuban hurdler Dayron Robles making history on Thursday night.

Thirty years after China's reform and opening up to the outside world, the Chinese have merged into the world, by hosting the Games with all their heart, cheering for all the players, sharing their laughters and tears and idolizing the world's common heroes.

The Games feel so much better and the world so much smaller, as the whole world watched Phelps and Bolt making history in Beijing.

While Chinese youngsters openly voice admiration for Phelps on the Internet, many others are pondering over what Chinese athletes should learn from Bolt, the naughty 22-year-old who grimaces at TV cameras and prefers sleeping late and chewing chocolate nuggets to training.

Bolt was even criticized by some Chinese spectators for "taking the Olympics too light-heartedly". He slowed down at the end of his 100m sprint to check if he was still ahead and punch his chest in joy before finishing in record-breaking 9.69 seconds last Saturday. Even his shoelaces were not fastened. "I was just having fun, that's me," he said.

The Jamaican "Lightning" certainly took Wednesday's 200m final more seriously. With both shoelaces fastened, he concentrated on the race to finish in 19.30 seconds, beating the previous mark by 0.02 seconds.

But the naughty guy was there joking with his coach, scratching his head for fun and grimacing at camera lens while everyone else was quiet and nervous before the race.

In addition to all his physical advantages and gift for running, Bolt's relaxed state of the mind and readiness to enjoy the Games are equally important in his double crown.

Had Liu Xiang taken the Games easier and vented his anxiety with jokes and grimaces like Bolt, his foot injury might not have worsened on the eve of Monday's competition, and he would not have to pull out.

The legendary 110m hurdles champion at Athens in 2004 was once known for his showy personality, with a sense of cold humor and absolute confidence.

Yet with the expectations of 1.3 billion people, Liu leads a life far less exciting than his peers: forever training, no family life, chatting with friends occasionally online.

Liu made 23 million U.S. dollars in 2007 according to Forbes, but he rarely has the chance to go shopping. He owns an expensive Cadillac but is not allowed to drive. He enjoys singing karaoke but seldom has the time.

"Sometimes I really want to be an ordinary person," he once said. "Fame brings benefits, but inconveniences, too."

While Liu concentrates on his treatment and prepares for a more impressive comeback in London in four years, his legend of sportsmanship and dedication will live on in the nation's memory, alongside other Olympic heroes, medal winners or not.

American shooter Matthew Emmons, who repeated his Athens tragedy and gifted the Chinese a gold medal at the Beijing Games, won all the spectators' hearts with his good humor and heartfelt congratulations for the gold winner Qiu Jian.

Emmons shot the wrong target in Athens and failed his last shot in Beijing in the men's 3-position rifle. Many Chinese spectators cried as they lamented his loss -- some even felt China's gold was undeserved. "We love you from the bottom of our hearts, and trust you'll make it in 2012," said a netizen on China's leading news portal sohu.com.

The Chinese public heartily celebrated Afghan taekwondo player Rohullah Nikpai's bronze on Wednesday, the first-ever Olympic medal for his country, and applauded his message for peace and the future of Afghanistan.

They cheered the Iraqi team whose participation to the Beijing Games was a last-minute decision and was a success in itself for the Iraqi athletes.

Likely, the stories of two swimmers are among the most inspiring at the Beijing Games.

American swimmer Eric Shanteau, 24, was diagnosed with testicular cancer in June, weeks before last month's U.S. trials. He persisted all the same and won the trip to China, though he failed to enter the final of his only race, the 200-meter breaststroke.

When South African Natalie du Toit finished 16th in a grueling 10-km open water race on Wednesday, even the most critical journalists applauded for her. Du Toit, 24, is the first female amputee to compete in the Olympics.

Here at the Olympics, people have stopped distinguishing "us" and "them" and expressed love and support for every hero in their hearts.

The home audience's love and respect also go to foreign coaches who have helped Chinese athletes' dreams come true.

Zhong Man, who took gold in men's sabre individual final, owed his glory to French coach Christian Bauer. "My French coach Christian Bauer offered tremendous help in improving my fencing skills. He is the best sabre coach in the world," said Zhong.

His gold came as China's second in its fencing history, after women foilist Luan Jujie won the first at the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

Chinese Zhang Lin, who took a historic silver for men's swimming at the Beijing Games, has followed Australian Denis Cotterell, who was the former coach of Australia's long distance king Grant Hackett.

When American volleyball women on Thursday celebrated their historic returning to the Olympic final in 24 years, the Chinese shared their triumph, because of the woman who has shortened the distance between the two countries -- Jenny Lang Ping.

The beloved "iron hammer", who led the Chinese team to five consecutive world championships in the 1980s, shines today as head coach of the U.S. team, with the same devotion and sportsmanship, plus fluent English.

Source: Xinhua

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