After a breathless few weeks during which the entire sporting world has been talking about Chinese football (with yours truly quoted by AFP three times, FT twice, El Pais, Hicimos, Vice Sports and interviewed by CCTV, BBC and Al Jazeera among others), let’s take a look at a few stories that could be cropping up over the next 12 months…
The World Athletics Championships kick off in Beijing today, with the world’s media focusing more on the doping allegations that have engulfed the sport than on the sporting action. This is completely understandable, given the revelations that have come out in recent weeks – for example, that one third of the athletes who competed at the 2011 World Champs in South Korea had suspicious tests during the previous 12 months.
However, Chinese media – led by national broadcaster CCTV – have been putting more of a positive spin on things, as is their government-directed wont. Wall-to-wall coverage of former meets (including the 2008 Beijing Olympics) has been shown on sports channel CCTV-5 in recent days, educating and encouraging the public in equal measures, in the hope that they embrace these championships.
The problem is: Liu Xiang, China’s 110m hurdles 2004 Olympic champion and the sport’s only real domestic star, recently retired.
Here is a list of all the Chinese contenders hoping to step into Liu’s size 11s: Continue reading China’s medal contenders
Jamaica has long been the sprint capital of the world, but as this Sports Illustrated article demonstrates (H/T Ollie Williams), the country’s anti-doping efforts in recent years have been pathetic. In the five months before last year’s Olympic Games in London, guess how many out-of-competition tests were conducted?
One. That’s it. A single measly test. Usain Bolt may be largely superhuman, but given the reputation of both his sport and his country, there will always be questions asked about his performance. As this week’s Sports Talk column discusses, Bolt has the ability to continue the sport’s growth almost singlehandedly, but if he ever falls foul of those testers, track and field could have a quick and very painful death.
An incredible thing happened about a week ago, when Usain Bolt regained his 100 meters World Championship title. Olivier Morin, a photographer for AFP, captured a shot of the man nicknamed the Lightning Bolt with an actual lightning bolt clearly visible in the background above the stadium roof.
It was, in some ways, the defining picture of Bolt’s remarkable career, one in which he has now won eight World Championship gold medals, six Olympic titles, and set eight world records.
Bolt is undoubtedly the greatest track athlete of his generation. Other athletes have scaled great heights in Moscow, but none captivates the worldwide press as much as the fastest man in the world, which is why he is scrutinized more than any other athlete.
When it was revealed last month that Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell – together responsible for half of all the 100 meters times ever run under 9.8 seconds – both used performance-enhancing drugs, or PEDs, it was impossible not to wonder if Bolt had done as well.
With baseball’s PED scandal blown wide open, cycling’s ongoing battle to convince the skeptics that it has turned a new leaf, and track and field athletes all testing positive for banned substances in recent months, Bolt’s legacy is more important than ever. He might be single-handedly saving the sport right now, but if he is ever found to have crossed the line, he would single-handedly destroy it.
In other sports, such as American football, PED use is almost acceptable. Players may test positive and receive suspensions, but none of them are vilified. Football fans clearly don’t care.
But athletics fans do. If you’re watching to see who will be faster, higher, stronger, as the Olympic motto goes, you want to see these heights attained through a combination of natural talent and hard work. But the ethics of sports and sportsmanship cannot be ignored, and if you cross that line, you become a cheat.
There have been growing calls to legalize all substances in sports, with the argument being made that this is the only way the playing field can truly be level, while the associated health risks are downplayed. We are a long, long way from this becoming a reality, but we’re closer to it than ever before. In the meantime, though, today’s heroes have to live by a certain set of rules. I, for one, hope that Usain Bolt does so.
Bolt plans to run in Rio at the 2016 Olympics, but it’s doubtful if he could continue much longer after that. Chinese sprinting is struggling to replace Liu Xiang right now, but expect to see some of the youngsters come through ahead of the next World Championships in Beijing in 2015.
Tiger Woods and Ye Shiwen might make an unlikely couple, but both are prime examples of athletes who have lost their sporting mojos. This week’s Sports Talk column looks at why athletes struggle to get back to their top of their game after losing form:
We tend to think of sports as being a purely physical pursuit, but at the very top levels, it’s far more about mental strength than anything the body can do. Just as a novelist can get writer’s block and be paralyzed for months, once an athlete loses their sporting mojo, it can be very hard to retrieve.
Tennis, baseball, both forms of football, badminton, athletics and mahjong all feature in this week’s wrap…
Liu Xiang is out for the season, and will miss the 2013 World Championships in Moscow among other events. Further ahead, the 2015 World Championships will be held in Beijing and the 2016 Olympic Games will be held in Rio. In 27 Olympics, the oldest ever winner of the 110-metre hurdles was Mark McCoy who was 30 in 1992; Liu will be 33 in Rio.
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.