China Starts its Gold Rush

Hannah Beech reports in the Time, from Beijing:

As a symbol of its powerful reemergence, China’s first Olympic gold medal couldn’t have been any more fitting. On Saturday, just 12 hours after the blaze of fireworks that opened the Beijing Games, Chen Xiexia, a Chinese female weightlifter in the 48 kg class, captured the host nation’s first gold by heaving a combined total of 212 kg, an Olympic record. A 25-year-old who has dedicated 13 years of her life to this grueling sport, Chen thoroughly dominated the event, lifting 13 kg more than Turkish silver medalist Sibel Ozkan. A capacity crowd watched the Chinese champion’s Herculean display — weightlifting may be a sporting sideshow in other countries, but in China it is prime-time viewing.

That’s largely because China’s weightlifting squad is a key component of the country’s strategy to top the gold-medals table in Beijing. During the 1980s, China’s sports czars unveiled a so-called “gold-medal strategy” that would bring Olympic glory to the nation, and weightlifting was one of its first targets because it offers a plethora of medals in its different weight classes. China’s team leaders have confidently predicted nine medals in the sport, one for each of the weight categories in which the nation’s athletes are competing. It is an audacious prophecy, but not at all unrealistic. At the 2007 World Championships, where Chen claimed the top spot in her flyweight division, the Chinese team won seven golds, five more than their closest competitors, Russia and Belarus.

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