"Make an interview?" she says. "Make a photograph?" She knows the drill, "it is good for me. It is good for you."
And one more thing: "Can you send me clippings of your article?"
"How could Ma's army run a marathon a day without the aid of a drink to help them recover?" asks Lixiao Ping. "Ma's success proves we make quality fungus." Lixiao's entire being seems buffed to a shine, from his slicked-back black hair to his thick sunglasses to his synthetic-fiber business suit. He's general manager of Zhong Shan City League New Technology, manufacturers of Worm Hair King, one of Ma's famous elixirs, and he's happy to talk up his tonic to anyone who will listen.
The fungus in question comes from the rare dong qiong sya cao—literally, "winter bug, summer grass"—found almost exclusively in the up-country of the western provinces. After the caterpillar dies, a fungus grows on its carcass, and out of the fungus sprout long grasslike strands. The thick dark-brown extract from that worm hair is said to clear bronchial tubes and increase circulation, and that's what Lixiao's company provided gratis to Ma's army. "This is what I tell my girls to drink," the great coach said, holding up the potion after his runners shattered three world records at the 1993 National Games. But soon afterward Ma dropped Worm Hair King and struck a deal with a firm that makes something called China Turtle Essence. And in return for posing with his runners in front of a $70,000 Audi sedan, Ma got to keep the car and $50,000 in cash. Seven months later he signed with a company that makes herbal patent medicines, in exchange for $10 million and an ownership stake.
Ma's ingratitude leaves Lixiao sputtering. "We supported Ma when he was just a pig farmer," Lixiao says. "He should be full of shame. Ma is worse than a blind American capitalist. At least in America you must honor a contract. Advertising turtle drink. Ha!
"He forgot about being Chinese. According to our traditions, you should go to great lengths to do good things for people who help you. Yes, like your person O.J., people still always talk about this man Ma. But everything they are saying is bad."
It's not easy to walk away from Lixiao Ping and his testimonials to quality fungus. "If you are 60 years old and walk with a cane, drink 16 bottles and you will not need a cane anymore," he says.
"Why 16 bottles? I cannot tell you. It is a secret."
Lixiao is both beneficiary and victim of the Western ways infiltrating Chinese sport, but with that last pitch he reminds us that his country hasn't abandoned many time-tested Eastern ways. In Atlanta the world will have been forewarned: China has plenty of files and mosquitoes, but it has its worms, too.