Changing China

Giant on the move

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South Korean secret is out: It’s all in the fingers

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By Peter Rutherford 

South Korean women have won every Olympic archery gold medal since 1984, and Beijing will probably be no different, but you might need a PhD in Genetics to explain this kind of dominance.

While the benefits of rigorous training, innovative coaching techniques and heavy financial investment are beyond question, there are some who believe Korean women have a genetic advantage – ultra sensitive fingers. The argument goes that this hereditary trait gives them an edge in sports where “feel” is crucial — such as archery, golf, billiards etc. South Korea does seem to have a production line of ultra-talented female golfers, even though the sport is prohibitively expensive there, while Korean-American Jeanette Lee, aka The Black Widow, is one of the top billiards players in the world.

Yoon Ok-hee, a favourite for archery gold in Beijing, says South Korean women can count on their digits. “Our sensitive fingers, descended from our ancestors, and our spiritual strength and willingness to fight until the very end – they are the secrets,” she told Reuters.

Picture: Yoon practices this week at a training session for the Beijing 2008 Olympics at the Korea National Training Centre in Seoul. Photo by Jo Yong-Hak

Britta talks candidly

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“Go ahead – ask me anything you want,” said German swimmer Britta Steffen at the start of a recent interview in Berlin. I had spent the last two hours watching her swim further (and three times faster) than I had swum in the last two months and was planning to ask her, among other things, a few questions about the doping innuendos that hit her in mid 2006 right after she broke the world record in the 100 metres freestyle. But I didn’t expect Steffen, who is regularly tested and never suspected of any wrongdoing, to so openly tackle the issue.

“Really, go ahead and ask,” she said again. So I jumped right in without even any warmup and started asking about those who have doubts on her world record time at the European championships in Budapest (53.30) in 2006 that was nearly a full second faster than her previous best (and lowered Australia’s Libby Lenton’s record of 53.42). What she would say those find such steep improvements hard to believe. “I’d be sceptical too,” she said. “I can totally understand that. If it weren’t me, I’d also have doubts. But the coaches took the pressure off my shoulder by pointing out that a Libby Lenton and other world record holders had also made improvements of a full-second before getting their world records.”

Dos and don’ts of reporting

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mpc2.jpgFirst the Chinese authorities provided foreigners with a list of dos and don’ts for when they visit the games. Now Human Rights Watch has got into the act, providing foreign journalists with its own booklet giving advice on how to report out of China.

The Reporters’ Guide gives useful information on what do if police detain you (don’t hit them), what to do if your reporting rights are not respected (complain) and what to do to prevent anyone snooping on your stories or emails (one suggestion — use gmail and add an ‘s’ at the end of http in the URL).

A homely alternative?

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By Kitty Bu

For many of the tourists expected to descend on Beijing for next month’s Olympics, an authentic Chinese home may be where the heart is. Beijing has recruited over 1,000 households to provide rooms during the Games. Like all other aspects of the Olympics, the “home stay” experience is regulated, with officials inspecting the ventilation, lighting, sanitary conditions, fire safety, bathroom facilities, location, transportation — and even the family pets. Other requirements include the “Olympic families” dressing appropriately, having good manners and basic Olympic knowledge, as well as the willingness to act as tour guides.

tourist2.jpgThe restrictions have not put off film critic Zhao Jing, who has decided to rent out her own bedroom to help visitors make the most of their China stay. And she’s already got her tourist — a German man. “Because of globalisation, young people’s lifestyles are becoming more and more similar,” Zhao reckons. “This friend is coming to China to experience the country’s authentic culture. He wants to have a similar lifestyle to Chinese people. He wants to know how Chinese eat, drink. All I need to do is to show him how I live.”

The one-month countdown begins

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    It’s a month to go! So, we sent our reporters out onto the street to speak to ordinary Beijingers to find out how they and the city are coping.

    ”I didn’t have much interest in the Olympics before the Tibet riots. After that I became to think: All right. If you guys are so keen to make us look bad, we’ll have to get things done even better. After the earthquake, I felt really sad and at one point even thought that it might be good not to hold the Games any more. But the reality is the country has poured in so much manpower, materials and money to prepare for the Games. As the Chinese saying goes, ‘there can be no turning back once the arrow is on the bowstring’.” – Zhao Qian, 26, a public relations officer for a European company

Alex the Great

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The IOC has just launched “The Best of Us” campaign to promote the main Olympic values of excellence, friendship and respect. I won’t bore you with the details of the campaign, suffice to say it is without doubt worthy. The best part of it, for my part, is the Alex Puskitas video. It is lovely! Who said the IOC hasn’t a sense of humour (OK they may not have come up with the concept, but they did sanction it!).

The background is: Alex Puskitas is a fictional, underdog athlete that incorporates all we want to express with the “Best of Us” campaign. He is capable of overcoming the odds and ‘bringing out his best’ in order to achieve his goals. He symbolizes the spirit of the athlete – the participation and striving to be your best.  Take a look..

What’s on the Olympic programme?

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Canadian synchronized swimming teamA gold medal to anyone who can name all 28 sports on the programme at the Beijing Olympics.

Struggling? The list runs from A for Aquatics to W for Wrestling. (Although ”aquatics” to my untrained eye seems to span a series of water sports – swimming, diving and water polo).

Iowan butter tribute for Olympian Johnson

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Johnson competes on the balance beam at the U.S. Women's Gymnastics Championships in BostonWhile a Michael Jordan sculpture stands majestically outside Chicago’s United Center and a similar one of Magic Johnson sits  elegantly outside the Staples Center in Los Angeles, it is perhaps fitting that Iowa, a farm state in the largely rural Midwest, honours its athletic heroes in butter. 

At the same time gymnast Shawn Johnson competes in the Beijing Olympics next month, she will appear as a butter sculpture at the Iowa State Fair, along with the life-size butter cow, a display that dates from 1911.

Mackeben rows back on robe protest

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MACKEBEN OF GERMANY CELEBRATES HIS GOAL AGAINST RUSSIA AT THE WATER POLO OLYMPIC GAMES QUALIFICATION …A German water polo player who had earlier this year floated the idea of his team wearing orange robes a symbolic protest at the Olympics against China’s Tibet has changed his mind, saying the Tibet issue is far too complex and that he knows too little about China to organise such a demonstration.

Soeren Mackeben, 29, told Der Spiegel news magazine this week:  “I’ve become more sceptical towards all sides in the meantime.” Mackeben had first proposed wearing the orange robes — the same colour as the Tibetan monks — in an interview in March.   

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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