Forget Mao, Yao Ming or even Deng Xiaoping. Call me a Yankee imperialist dog but when I think of China I think of one man: Del Harris.
Nothing says China like Del Harris.
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The NBA lifer is coaching Team China at these games, and watching him on the sideline has been the strangest foreign experience I've had since renting Fellini's 8 1/2. I'm thinking about China today because, as of Tuesday night, China had won 51 medals in Athens: 24 gold, 15 silver and 12 bronze. That's good for second place in the medal count behind the U.S. The Chinese booty includes: five golds in weightlifting, four in shooting and three each in badminton and diving. Chinese women alone have won 32 medals (14 gold, nine silver and nine bronze) and have a sizeable lead over the American women in golds (14-9).
China, Altius, Fortius.
Before you know it, the People's Republic is going to lead the medal count for good. (Let's hope that's not the first step to making the U.S. one of its colonies.) More than 80 percent of China's current Olympians are first-timers, and members of the Chinese sports delegation last month set a pre-Olympic goal of 20 to 22 gold medals.
"We have done quite a good job," said Chen Ping, a media and communications official for the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad. A good job, indeed. On Sunday, China won the 100th gold medal in its history when Yining Zhang captured the women's table tennis title. It's an astonishing achievement considering the country's first Olympic gold medal came in 1984.
China brought 407 Olympians (138 men and 269 women) to these games and are competing in every sport but equestrian and baseball. It's all part of an effort to be a sporting juggernaut, or the sporting juggernaut, when the world comes to Beijing for the 2008 Games. And it's playing like the ultimate infomercial back home thanks to the breadth of the various state-run media: the Xinhua News Agency sent 80 staffers here to cover the Olympics, and China had dedicated three national channels to the Games (No, Dick Ebersol is not running those networks, too).
"People will see Beijing open its arms for the Olympics," Chen says. "They will be able to experience China's culture and see friendly citizens. I think the Olympic Games should be a window for the Chinese people to see the world, and for people in other parts of the world to see what China is doing."
Certainly there are those who will argue with what China is doing politically, especially in the arena of human rights and its occupation of Tibet. Athletically, you have to admire the Chinese. The blog has occupied an interesting location over the past two weeks because Chen and his army of Beijing Organizing Committee staffers and volunteers have the office next door. He says more than 500 foreign journalists have already visited the office -- including the blog -- since the start of the Games.
That includes many in need of serious geographic help. "Some of the journalists are very interested in Beijing, but some, I have to be frank, know almost nothing about China. They even don't know that Beijing is the capital of People's Republic of China. One journalist came in and said, 'Oh, you're from Beijing. Isn't that the capital of Japan? Gosh, I was very surprised." No worries, Chen. They'll all know soon enough.