Fans “Cheated” by Liu’s Scripted Olympic Tragedy

Liu Xiang’s one-legged finish after falling at the first hurdle in London seemed to offer a dramatic counterpoint to China’s “gold or nothing” approach to the games. CCTV presenter Yang Jian choked up as he praised Liu in heroic terms: “He is like a soldier without a gun in his hand … All he can do is charge at the enemy’s fortress with his own body. Goodbye, Liu Xiang.” A directive issued to Chinese media ordered them to “strongly affirm Liu’s indomitable fighting spirit against all odds“, but the prompt was hardly necessary.

According to Nanjing’s Oriental Guardian newspaper on Thursday, however, “Liu Xiang knew, CCTV knew and leaders knew” that he was unlikely to finish. “Only spectators foolishly waited to witness moment of miracle,” the headline continued. The news has revived earlier suspicions that Liu was a victim of combined political and commercial pressures. From Steven Jiang at CNN:

Local media reported that, in a largely self-congratulatory meeting Wednesday reviewing its Olympics coverage, CCTV officials revealed they were aware of Liu’s “serious injury” before the race and approved four scripts for the anchors — including the so-called “choked up” option apparently used on air. The story was widely reported by news outlets across China and featured prominently on major web portals through most of Thursday.

[…] Chinese sports officials have vehemently denied the claim that their vested interest in Liu’s commercial success — the sports authority is entitled to a considerable cut from an athlete’s endorsements income — played a role in his decision to compete at the Olympics despite his injury.

“Our priority is to protect athletes, if we could have predicted he would be injured, no one would have let Liu run,” Feng Shuyong, China’s athletics team leader at the London Games, told the state-run Xinhua News Agency when the controversy first erupted.

Liu has insisted that he felt fit before the race, but the story quickly attracted over 38 million posts on Sina Weibo alone, with angry users complaining of feeling cheated by CCTV’s cover-up. China Real Time Report’s Lilian Lin suggested that the outrage was inflated by a pervasive sense of mistrust, visible also in the conspiracy theories swirling around other recent news stories.

In the case of Gu Kailai, who was recently convicted of the murder of a British businessman, conspiracy theorists have insisted (based on a comparison of video stills and earlier photos) that the woman who appeared in court for the trial and sentencing was not Ms. Gu at all, but rather a body double. In Zhou’s case, skeptics have cast doubt on whether Chongqing police actually shot him, with some saying they shot an undercover copy from out of town and others insisting Mr. Zhou shot himself.

In both cases, the doubts appeared to be fed less by concrete evidence and more by an underlying mistrust of China’s state media – a theme touched on by a message posted to Sina Weibo on Thursday by writer Zhang Yihe.

“Was Liu Xiang’s appearance at the Olympics all just a performance? …Was that really Gu Kailai in the courtroom? Was it really Zhou Kehua who was shot to death? And on and on,” read the post, which was deleted by censors but recovered by researchers at Hong Kong University. “This makes one think of the ancient story of the boy who cried wolf … China’s propaganda machine has cranked out lies for 60 years. Now it has come to the point that anything they say is met with doubt.”

Mengyu Dong contributed to this post.


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