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Soaring Eagle, fiery Dragon

india Updated: Aug 12, 2012 01:50 IST
Hindustan Times
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From the Cold War era, the Olympics has reminded one of George Orwell’s famous quote that sport is “war minus the shooting”. Until the 1992 Barcelona Games, it was a no-holds barred battle between the US and the Soviet Union, both vying to earn sporting and political bragging rights on the field of play. The Unified team of the erstwhile Soviet republics topped the medals table in 1992 pushing USA to second before they began fielding separate teams.

In the new world order, China took up the gauntlet, challenging the US over the last four editions. The brigade in red topped the gold tally in Beijing (51) ahead of the US (36). The US led in total medal count (110) with China (100) in touching distance.

In London, the Chinese dragon was flying high before the eagle swooped in. The two sporting superpowers went neck and neck before the US surged ahead. Bolt and Phelps dominated the headlines, but the flashpoint in the rivalry between the big powers came when a renowned US swimming coach raised doping doubts over Chinese swimming sensation Le Shewin’s feats.

As the two nations jockey for supremacy, HT dissects this clash of the titans.

A big chunk of China’s medals came from diving, badminton, table tennis and weightlifting. Forty of their 81 medals came in these four sports.

The Americans held sway in swimming and athletics in London, winning 31 medals (16 gold) in the pool and 26 (8 gold) in track and field till Saturday afternoon.

Diving symbolises the change of power – US dominated the sport since it made its debut in 1904 in St Louis. They scooped 131 medals in all with 48 gold till 2008. China lived in their shadow till 1988 and has come into its own since 1992, claiming 49 medals, 27 of them of yellow hue. In London, China pocketed six out of the seven disciplines decided and look good to claim the top honours in the men’s 10m platform with Bo Qiu and lin Yue occupying the top two spots after the semifinal round.

The two giants are vying to increase their share of the world economic pie and the Games are a good chance to promote their brand. Sporting excellence is taken as barometer of governance and gives the victor bragging rights. The communists and capitalists have been at it since World War II and the game of one-upmanship continues with China replacing USSR as leader of Red Brigade. The capitalists dismiss the Chinese academies as factories turning young children into champion athletes without much regard to their fundamental rights and overall development.

The simmering US-China sporting tensions bubbled over on the pool when a renowned American coach’s suggestion that 16-year-old Le Shiwen shaved a whopping seven seconds off the 400m individual medley world record fuelled by dope left the Chinese fuming. The Chinese camp, and Shiwen herself, dismissed the claim, terming the attack as ‘western bias’.

The one thing I will say is that history in our sport will tell you that every time we see something, and I will put quotation marks around this, ‘unbelievable’, history shows us that it turns out later on there was doping involved.
— John Leonard, executive director, USA Swimming Coaches Association

I think it is not proper to single Chinese swimmers out once they produce good results. Some people are just biased. We never questioned Michael Phelps when he bagged eight gold medals in Beijing.
— Jiang Zhixue, China’s anti-doping chief