It was only a matter of time before the Chinese won a medal they weren’t supposed to and the carping began. In the firing line? Some wee 19-year-old swimmer called Liu Zige who nabbed gold in the 200m butterfly event in world record time.
I don’t care about sport, or the medal count. It’s shoddy, nasty, knee-jerk reactionary, poor sport journalism that raises my hackles. “Doubters began to question how an unknown 19-year-old could have shaved more than a second off the world record in the 200-meter butterfly.
“It did not help suspicions that the silver medalist, Jiao Liuyang, was also Chinese,” writes Andrew Jacobs in the New York Times (as if no other nation ever got a one-two finish in an event?!)
Leaving the loaded – and unqualified – term “doubters” hanging in the air Jacobs prods the fuel further into the fire with the quote: “Until Beijing, I’d never heard of either of them – just who are they?” Not, as one might expect, from a swimming expert or sporting authority but from “Jenny Schipper, whose daughter, the Australian swimmer Jessicah Schipper” took bronze. Jesus. Have reporters forgotten what sour grapes taste like? Incidentally, I’ve never heard of Jessicah Schipper – does that mean she shouldn’t have been allowed to win a medal?
He then proceeds to cast aspersions on the Chinese girls’ performance by citing such experts as “the trainer of [a] Polish swimmer” (who helpfully said the results were “not rational” – according to what standard?) and “a former Australian swimming star.” Wow. What an impressively articulate and qualified range of commentators. None of whom, of course, have any sort of bias.
Then there’s this: “In the 1994 Asian Games, Chinese women brought home 12 gold medals. Then seven of those same woman tested positive for banned substances, forcing them to relinquish their prizes. Four years later, the ignominy repeated itself, with four more swimmers disqualified.” Oh dear, that is bad, isn’t it? Except by my arithmetic that makes it a decade since China’s last doping scandal. America should do as well.
As for the whole, “Until Thursday, [Zige] had never competed in an international meet”… Why is it that when Western athletes perform spookily unprecedented feats they’re heroes and when the Reds do they’re (probably) cheats? Take a British example: Paula Radcliffe, up whose slender backside the media is forever clambering. She ran the second quickest woman’s marathon ever in her debut race, then smashed the world record in her second. Did the press mutter about the rationality of this abrupt success? Hell no. She got an invite to Buckingham Palace. I’m not suggesting Radcliffe is anything but a superbly gifted natural athlete, I’m just saying – imagine the reaction if one of them who pulled off a similar feat.
After effectively insinuating all sorts of unpleasantness, Jacobs shifts from positing young Liu as the villain of the story to portraying her as a victim; a delicate flower being ground down by the methodical machinery of that nasty Communist sport regime. “Her teammates describe her as a lion in the water, but they also called her introverted and prone to sadness. One teammate, Zhao Zihan, said she often broke into tears after being scolded by her coach.”
Sweet lord. Show me a teenage girl who isn’t occasionally down in the dumps. Or an elite athlete who doesn’t sometimes weep with the pain or pressure of intense training.
“Other teammates said she does not own a cellphone or computer and she seldom goes shopping.”
How patronising does Jacobs want to be? Maybe she doesn’t like shopping. Since when is owning a cellphone the last word in happiness? Does he not realise that millions around the world lead rich, fulfilling lives without twenty-four/seven access to Facebook and MSN? Hard as it might be for a good little capitalist stooge to imagine, there are things people value more than just stuff. Maybe for Zige winning an Olympic gold medal has more lasting significance than the ability to send picture messages to her pals. Who is he to judge?
The whole feature is nothing more than playground bitchiness, a pitiful display of pseudo-journalism from a newspaper that should know better.