China´S Olympic Breakthroughs 12-28-2004 09:37

Sports enthusiasts may remember that prior to Athens, China's sports officials had modest expectations. They guessed China's gold tally in the Olympics wouldn't go above 28. That's the same number of golds China won in the Sydney Games. But things turned out dramatically different for many athletes in Athens, and delighted Chinese all over the world. China's athletes not only made a breakthrough in the number of gold medals they won in the Sydney. But they also made a breakthrough in Olympic events that China previously was not a major player, among these sports were swimming, track and field, various water sports and tennis. These events were once considered by many -- beyond the Olympic reach -- of Chinese and Asian athletes as a whole.

The most impressive breakthrough was made by Liu Xiang - a 21-year-old swimming sensation from Shanghai. He torpedoed through the men's 110-meter hurdles to clock a world record-equaling time of 12.91 seconds for the gold. In the process, Liu also broke the Olympic record of 12.95 seconds set by America's flying man Allen Johnson, in the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996. The winning margin was the biggest since the Seoul Olympics in 1988, where Roger Kingdom of the United States won in 12.98 seconds. British Colin Jackson took the silver medal, with a performance of 13.28 seconds.

Most didn't expect Liu to break the Olympic record as a first-time Olympian. But a tearful Liu said he was excited to have shown the world that Chinese athletes can run as fast, or faster, than their Olympic competitors. Coach Sun Haiping proudly added that Liu Xiang has mastered world-class techniques in the event, thanks to his talent, strenuous training, pre-game regimen and psychological strength...

Stunner No 2 came from Canoeing. It was an epic moment when Chinese Meng Guanliang and Yang Wenjun won the men's 500-meter final in a photo finish in one minute 40.278 seconds, the first gold for China's canoeing sport in Olympic history.

Meng Guanliang, a 28-year-old athlete from Zhejiang Province in China said that it wasn't just a "coincidence" that after years' of hard training and tough competitions -- they finally "realized their dreams." 21-year-old Yang Wenjun, a Jiangxi native, burst into tears with his victory. He said he never imagined this would happen and called it incredible. He said "I won a gold, the very first canoeing gold for our country! We came here to go for a medal -- but finally bagged a gold!"

He partnered with Meng for months and made it to the top of the Olympics. But when it comes to "firsts", this wasn't actually their only display of extreme showmanship. In June, 2004, the duo took everybody by surprise, winning the World Cup, becoming the first ever world champions for Chinese in canoeing.

It's safe to say that the rest of the world beyond China never thought it would be possible -- but China was on track to making history in the world of Olympic tennis. And even here in China, many sports fans were saying Li Ting and Sun Tiantian were the darkest of dark horses to win a medal in Olympic tennis action. But later, they shocked the world, including themselves, by defeating powerful Spanish players Conchita Martinez and Virginia Ruano Pascual to win the women's tennis doubles final in Athens.

In a bit of ironic twist, they won, but they cruised to victory despite 9 double-serving errors. Their win, however, was no less than historic. In an arena long-dominated by the Europeans and Americans, a new page has been turned. Even though Chinese tennis players had appeared in world-class competitions before, this was the first time for them to play on the Olympic court, and they went on to win the match!

And then there's swimming, where world champion gold medalist Luo Xuejuan stamped her supremacy in the women's 100-meter breaststroke. And she did so in the lane that was assigned to the weakest swimmer of the group!

China also embraced its first volleyball Olympic title in the two decades since the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, beating Russia 3 to 2 in the women's final -- after a nail-biting see-saw battle.

Now, China ranks second only to the United States in the gold tally. And its beginning to build its sports power image in the eyes of the world. China鈥檚 sports officials however, still see a considerable gap between China -- and the USA and Russia. They stand in first and second respectively, with medal tallies of 35-38-29 and 27-27-38,compared with China's 32 golds, 17 silvers and 14 bronze. And in spite of the Chinese athletes' breakthrough in major events that used to be far out of reach, their future success will be tested with time and more competition.

With its shining results in Athens, and the home Olympic advantage in Beijing in 2008, many in China and around the world are expecting China to shine even brighter in 4 years. But, Chinese coaches, athletes and fans know that before that happens, much is yet to be done. But everybody in China -- believes they're up to the challenge -- and more dream are ready and waiting to come true.


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