Changing China

Giant on the move

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The Ju basketball dynasty

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While based in China as a chief photographer in the early 1990s I had the good fortune to make the acquaintance of a sports journalist and in turn an entire family with a remarkable basketball legacy. So much so that official government film documentaries were produced highlighting their sporting achievements. Aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces have all competed at college level, professionally or on a national team.

My journalist friend’s accomplishments were impressive. Starting at the age of 2-1/2 her parents had to place her, for the next three years, in the national sports committee’s boarding kindergarten. It was a place where China’s sporting elite could leave their children while they competed for the Party and national pride.

With few options available my friend was separated from her family again at age 11 to enter into the government’s athlete mill. Gruelling workouts, stark living conditions, military-style coaching were all in a day’s work. She spent her entire teens and early 20s being honed into a world class athlete. Looking to finally wrap up her career, the sports committee eventually, but reluctantly, permitted her to leave the game. She left with five national basketball championships to her credit.

east-germans.jpgHeading this family dynasty were two towering and statuesque brothers, Ju Fen Geng and the younger Ju Fen Kang, who were members of China’s first national team formed post-1949. They were so striking in appearance that they could easily have been the inspiration for the valorous, chisel-jawed comrades overcoming adversity in the ubiquitous propaganda posters of the Communist era. The brothers criss-crossed the Soviet-bloc and socialist countries of Europe proudly representing the People’s Republic throughout the 50s. Their journals overflow with black and white photographs of the smartly dressed young men visiting and competing in places that were strictly off limits to the West during the depths of the Cold War.

Basketball gold would cap Spain’s superb sporting year

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Nadal on his way to number oneSpanish sport is living a golden age, a magical year or a unique two months, depending on how long a view you’re taking. But will it continue on into Beijing?

Rafael Nadal’s victory over Nicolas Lapentti in Cincinnati means the 22-year-old is now certain to depose Roger Federer as world number one in tennis by August 18 at the latest.

Finally, to live the Olympic dream

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You’d have to have a heart of stone not to feel for Dirk Nowitzki. After 12 years of spending his summer holidays playing basketball for Germany in the hope of one day making it to the Olympics, the Dallas Mavericks forward led his country into the tournament when they got third place — and the last ticket to Beijing — in a qualifying tournament on Sunday in Athens. 

Nowitzki cried tears of joy after Germany beat Puerto Rico 96-82 in the match for third place after they had lost to Croatia on Saturday night. He  buried his face in a towel while walking off the court after scoring 32 points and cried and then sat in the locker-room and wept  some more as journalists watched and waited for the chance to talk to him. “I needed to be alone for a bit at first,” Nowitzki said later.

One world, one dream…

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Dallas’ Nowitzki grabs a rebound in their NBA game in Dallas, TexasDirk Nowitzki says he’s been dreaming about going to the Olympics since he saw the 1988 Games on TV as a 10-year-old boy.

He’s spent the last 10 summers in the NBA off-season working hard to help Germany qualify for the Olympics again for the first time since 1992 — and the Dallas Mavericks’ all-star from Germany looked completely shattered when his team came up heartbreakingly short in the 2003 European Championships, the qualifier for the 2004 Olympics. 

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