On Aug. 10 Long's parents were able to watch their son win his medal on a 29-inch TV that the county sports administration bought them for the occasion. Qingquan called afterward, but 10 days later there was still no plan for a reunion. He hopes to use his winnings to free his parents of life in the chemical plant, maybe fund a small business for them near the training site in the Hunan capital. "We will do whatever Qingquan says," Guangwu said. "If he ask us to quit our jobs and stay at home, we will. If he tells us to keep working, we will."
But Qingquan doesn't expect his life to change much. "I know I'm getting a lot of attention," he said, "and if I go out in the street—which I haven't yet since I won the gold—a lot of people would probably recognize me. I rarely go out anyway."
In fact, there seemed to be little celebrating, and even less relaxation, for the Chinese athletes after the immediate flush of victory. Few parents were seen during competitions, in the stands or on the national broadcast. Most families couldn't afford the cost of travel and tickets. The effect was an odd air of isolation about the Chinese team, and it didn't end when the athletes stopped competing. Right up until the closing ceremonies, all were kept on a short leash. No one was allowed to return home—not even first-time gold medalist Chen Ying, who won the 25-meter pistol event on the fifth day of the Games only to find out afterward that her mother, Zhang Zhimin, had kept secret a breast-cancer diagnosis for three months so as not to distract her.
Reached at her home in a Beijing suburb on Aug. 21, a week after her daughter had finished her Olympics, Zhang said, "She's still with the team. She won't come home until the 29th. There's no exceptions or special treatment."
Whether Chinese authorities wanted merely to maintain control of these tightly controlled games, or to keep the nosy media at bay, or to delay the inevitable changes in the lives of their newest stars isn't clear. Least of all to the athletes themselves. "They tell us there are terrorists out there," Long Qingquan said. "Do you think they are trying to scare us?"