All sports stars feel pressure to a certain extent, but when you’ve got the hopes of 1.3 billion people weighing on you, that pressure can become suffocating. China’s greatest sportsmen and women all either compete in individual events (Liu Xiang, Li Na, Lin Dan etc) or are head and shoulders above anyone else on their team (literally, in Yao Ming’s case), and so they rarely, if ever, have the chance to share that burden.
For all the attention lavished on Guan Tianlang last week, here’s a bit of context: his Weibo followers have swelled from about 20,000 a week ago to 28,000. Compare that to Chinese tennis star Li Na who has more than 21 million fans.
Numbers in China are notoriously hard to check, especially on a place like Weibo where fake and inactive accounts vastly outnumber real ones, but the point is clear: Guan barely registers on China’s sporting radar despite last week’s heroics. In fact, my guess is that his week at Augusta raised his international profile far more than his Chinese one, and that tells you everything about how far the game of golf still has to go here.
Zou Shiming is a man with a thousand names this week. Known variously by his growing international entourage as Zoo, Zow, Zoe, Joe, Joo and Jow (and that’s before we even get to his given name), the boxer courteously responds to all and sundry with an infectious smile, and willingly answers the same questions over and over again, always giving full and thoughtful soundbites.
It’s this understated charm that may actually turn out to be more useful to Zou and his team than his boxing talents, which, after winning three Olympic medals (2 gold, 1 bronze), are already legendary.
While the world’s press are catching up with news of David Beckham’s CSL deal, a more important signing in the world of Chinese sport in the last week might end up being female golfer Feng Shanshan partnering with IMG.
Feng was the first Chinese player to earn membership on the LPGA Tour after earning her card at qualifying school in 2008 and, last year, became the first major champion from the mainland – male or female – when she won the LPGA Championship. She’s currently ranked number five in the world.
If Li Na’s French Open win was the earthquake, then here comes the tsunami.
I’ve written before about the crop of Chinese youngsters poised to make a breakthrough in the women’s game, and it looks like it might be happening.
Yesterday at the Malaysian Open, 21-year-old Wang Qiang beat former world number 1 and the tournament’s top seed, Caroline Wozniacki 2-6, 7-6, 6-1 for the biggest win of her career.
Ferrari sign first Chinese sponsor
Ferrari’s Formula One team has signed a four-year deal with Weichai Power. Somewhat surprisingly given Ferrari 20+ year history in China and the importance of the Chinese market, it is Ferrari’s first ever Chinese sponsor. Weichai, as I’m sure you know, produces mechanical components for heavy-duty vehicles, including buses.
Weichai Power’s parent company, the Weichai Group, already has Italian links: the company bought a majority stake in luxury yacht manufacturer Ferretti Group last year.
Well, yes, a boxing one…
From my weekly column for the Global Times:
In all the excitement over Li Na’s thrilling run to the Australian Open final last week, another sporting development was largely overlooked – and it could prove to be even more significant for Chinese sport.
Two-time Olympic boxing gold medalist Zou Shiming has turned professional, signing for US promoter Bob Arum’s Top Rank group, and will make his pro debut on April 6 in Macao.
Here’s the full piece:
Saturday’s Australian Open women’s tennis final will be an all-Nike affair as Li Na faces off against Victoria Azarenka. Nothing particularly unusual there, given that the US sportswear giant also sponsors Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams. But Nike won’t quite have it all its own way.
That’s because Li Na has a deal – unique among Nike’s stable of tennis superstars that also includes Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer – that allows her to have two other brands on her shirt in addition to the Nike swoosh. Those two? The well-known car company Mercedes-Benz, and the less well-known insurance company Taikang Life.
With Li leading the way, Mercedes has projected that China will be its biggest market by 2015, so paying $4.5 million to get the company’s logo on Li’s right sleeve for three years would seem to be money well spent.
I don’t mean to patronize Wu Di (吴迪), but his first round loss to Croatia’s Ivan Dodig at the Australian Open is still something to be celebrated.
The 21-year-old from Wuhan became the first Chinese man to play in the main draw of a Grand Slam tournament in the professional era. He had qualified via a wildcard playoff in Nanjing last year, and despite an early break at the start of the match and a solid second set, he went down 5-7, 6-4, 3-6, 3-6.
No one – not the fans, not the bookmakers, not even Wu himself – expected the youngster to overcome the world number 74 in Melbourne. That much was clear from Wu’s post-match comments, when he conceded that Dodig is a much better player.
China and Japan may be duking it out for territorial bragging rights in the East China Sea, but on the tennis court it is very much advantage China.
The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) announced this week that, from 2014, a new tournament in Wuhan will replace the Toray Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo, which will celebrate a bittersweet 30th – and last – anniversary this year.
This is shaping up to be a huge tournament, with at least seven of the year-end ranked top 10 players due to appear in Li Na’s hometown, competing for more than $2 million in prize money.