Sports Illustrated has published a lengthy story which interviews athletes, disgraced athletes, sports managers, and construction workers building the Olympic stadium about the run-up to the 2008 Games:
In trying to understand sports, culture and life in China today, it’s tempting to grasp at the huge numbers: 1.32 billion people; seven million more cars on the road each year; a wildfire 11.1% annual growth in gross domestic product that over the last quarter century has helped lift more than 225 million people out of poverty. China is spending $60 billion on Olympic-related preparations — four times as much as any previous host — and expects Beijing’s Games to attract four billion TV viewers, the largest audience for any event ever. Come next April, a record 21,880 relay runners will carry the Olympic torch for 130 days over a six-continent, 85,000-mile route that includes a stop atop Mount Everest, 20,000 feet above piddling Olympus.
…The fact is, interviews are a distraction with the Games just a year away, and everybody in China has a vested interest in keeping Liu’s focus on the track. The Chinese finished only four gold medals behind the U.S. (36 to 32) in Athens and third in total medals (63 to the U.S.’s 102 and Russia’s 92), and they will need every victory they can get to move to the top of the standings in Beijing. Though Liu’s face is all over China, used to promote everything from Visa cards to his country’s version of FedEx, it’s not worth arguing that an interview in an American magazine could help open a new market for him. In the ongoing Chinese battle between the free market and state control, there’s no question where the ultimate power lies. [Full text]
[Image of Liu Xiang via Sports Illustrated]