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THE COBRA AND C. K. YANG
Robert Creamer
December 23, 1963
If the snake had been a copperhead or a rattler, or even a bushmaster or a krait, the story would not have seemed so impressive. But it was a cobra, and a cobra has a special quality—like a shark or a tiger.
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December 23, 1963

The Cobra And C. K. Yang

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Yang had never seen a decathlon scoring table up to that time, and he had no real understanding of the scoring system. At Manila he simply tried to beat everyone in every event. In the last, the exhausting 1,500 meters, he was jogging wearily along late in the race when he suddenly decided that he would try to catch a Japanese runner about 100 yards ahead of him. Yang's spurt closed about 60 yards and added a small but significant number of points to his overall total. At first it did not seem to matter. Yang was told that he had finished second. "I was so disappointed," he said. "I didn't expect to win, but I wanted to win." Then it turned out that an old scoring table had been used by mistake; under the revised scoring of the new table Yang was placed first, by 25 points. He had won the first gold medal ever won by a Chinese track and field athlete at the Asian Games, and he became wholly committed to the decathlon.

And so Yang competed in the Olympics in 1956 and at the Asian Games again in 1958, came to the U.S., entered UCLA, became fast friends with Rafer Johnson and improved tremendously year after year. In the process he became more and more Americanized. He learned to drive a car. He wore loafers and chinos and sweaters and porkpie hats. He met and married Daisy Jue, pretty daughter of a Ventura, Calif. merchant and a coed at the University of Southern California, and became the father of a son named Edward Cedric. In the years since his departure from Taiwan in 1958 he has been back to his homeland only twice, once in 1960 after the Rome Olympics and again in 1962 during an abortive trip to the Asian Games in Indonesia—from which Taiwan (and Yang) and Israel were barred by the arbitrary action of Indonesian officials, pressured by Communist China and the Arab countries. He will visit Taiwan again in 1964, on the way to and from Tokyo, but after the Olympics he expects to retire from competitive track and field, and the chances are that he will make his home in the U.S. He is immensely popular in Taiwan—small boys imitate the way he walks, and Chiang Kai-shek has received him—but the success Taiwan is so proud of is losing the island its hero. It is a paradox that gnaws at Yang.

"Many people ask me about my future plans," he said. "I don't know what they are. I don't want to make anybody feel bad. I love to go home and coach, but the situation is different now. This country is where my wife was born and where she grew up, and it would be a strange life for her over there. I don't think she would be happy. Also I'm getting used to it here. I don't know, when I go home I feel strange sometimes. I don't feel that I belong. I feel more comfortable here. I can talk to people here, you know? Also I can get much better job here. I think I would get a very good job over there, in Formosa, but I don't think I could get a better salary than I could get here. Here I could coach and also go into something like bowling. I would like to try it. I have done 272, and I averaged 214 for four games one time and 225 for three games. All the time I average about 200. And, anyway, I could always go back home in the summertime and coach there for two or three months.

"I really don't know, though, what happens. If I win the gold medal the Chinese people will want me to go around the world and meet Chinese people in different countries, the overseas Chinese people. Like a State Department trip. Sports clinic all over the world. That's what I heard; I don't know for sure. The Chinese people here, they are very good to me, but they have not talked to me about the future. I don't think they mind what I do then or where I live. I think I have one obligation: to win the gold medal for China in the Olympics. That's the only thing, the main thing.

"I want to tell you about a man named S. S. Kwan. He was an architect, and he used to be a millionaire on the mainland before the Communists. After he came to Formosa he was not as rich as he used to be, but he still had money and he spent it all on athletics, on equipment and like that. He was head of the track and field federation in Formosa. He got track athletes jobs, and after work we would practice every day. In 1958 he sponsored me to come over here to the U.S. to compete. We were supposed to go right back in a couple of months, as you know, but my coach, Mr. Wei, asked me if I'd like to stay and go to school. I said, sure, so he wrote to Mr. Kwan and he said, all right, he would support me, living here and going to school, until the Olympic Games. Room and board and pocket money. He was like a father, you know. So I went to UCLA. I almost went to Yale. A man in New Jersey told me he could get me in there. I wanted to go. I had heard of Yale, a very famous college, and I thought, oh, imagine if I could go to Yale! But Mr. Wei, my coach, said, you know, you could not get the competition in the decathlon at Yale as you would in California. And you could not practice as much, because in the winter is so cold. So I went to UCLA.

"And then at Rome when I got second place, Mr. Kwan was so happy. I never saw him so happy as he was at Rome. He said, 'Ahh! Now I have achieved my goal.' He said, 'We broke the egg.' The egg, that was the zero, you know? Up to then we had never won a medal in the Olympic Games. Rome was the first. So I broke two eggs: the gold medal at the Asian Games, the silver medal at the Olympic Games. Mr. Kwan was so happy.

"He was traveling with his wife, and he went to Paris before he went home. There, in Formosa, he start planning for the next step—the future—day and night. Then all of a sudden he had a stroke and died, like that. Oh, gosh. I felt—I was so—I didn't know what to say as I looked back at what he had done for me. I really didn't know what to say. People ask me how I feel that he had died. I remember how at Rome he said he had achieved his goal. I told them that, of course, Mr. Kwan think he had finished his job but that he has not finished it, even though he has passed away. And that I am going to finish it for him. I am going to break the world record for him, and I am going to get the gold medal for him. I like them to know that he was a great man.

"So I must win at Tokyo. And that will be my last competition. I wanted to keep in condition until the next Asian Games in 1966, but I just can't afford the time. I enjoy being an athlete, I like it very much, but I worry about my family—my wife, son—how to support them. Her family has helped us, but now I have got to earn some money. I have done sports for a long, long time. I have sacrificed so many chances to make money. Recently the Chinese people here, they like to help me. They raised money for me. They raised about $3,400, I think. Suppose I accept that money, I become a professional. I told them I cannot accept that money, and that they cannot use my name to collect money. They are so nice, but I just cannot take that money.

"So I am happy now, but I am not yet too happy in everything. Because I have my family to support, but I still have my goal to achieve. Maybe after the Olympic Games in Tokyo things will be different for me. Oh. Who knows?"

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