Little Trouble for Big China

Review of the week: 28 September – 4 October 2015

Yi Jian Lian Jumper (2752691654)

One of my favourite untrue stories in Olympic history concerns the American basketball player, Bob Kurland, part of the gold-medal winning team at the 1948 London Games. It is said that a Chinese opponent scored a basket after dribbling the ball through his legs.

This tall tale is easily disproved by noting that China and the USA did not meet during the tournament, but it is compelling because it fits an expectation that Chinese players are short. That is also untrue – when they did meet in 2008, China had the taller team.

Kurland, one of the earliest slam dunkers, was often described as being 7 feet tall but he insisted that he wasn’t quite, except maybe in the summer. Even he would have looked up to Li Jianlian (above right), who hits the mark without a need to wait for hot weather.

Li was the Most Valuable Player at the Asian Basketball Championship this week, as China won the event and qualified for Rio. The Philippines, Iran and Japan finished in second, third and fourth, and will now go into the final stage of Olympic qualification.

Mondial Ping -Women's Singles - Quarterfinal - Zhu Yuling-Feng Tianwei - 18

In table tennis, China is a giant among pygmies, and it towered over its opponents again at the Asian Table Tennis Championships. Fan Zhengdong achieved a rare maximum of four titles, with victories in singles, men’s and mixed doubles, and the team competition.

Zhu Yuling (above) won her first singles title in dramatic circumstances. Her opponent, Chen Meng, was suddenly unable to continue and was rushed to hospital in great pain.

Elsewhere in Asia, Tokyo 2020 organisers proposed five new sports for the programme. Baseball and karate are both very popular in Japan and came as little surprise, but sport climbing, skateboarding and surfing and were more unexpected choices. The IOC may well conclude that Tokyo has overreached its ambition and veto some of the selections.

There were problems in Rio as the BMX test event was first delayed then cancelled but Mariana Pajon of Colombia recorded the best time to make her the favourite to retain her title next year. Senegal won the women’s AfroBasket to qualify for the 2016 Games.

Russia continued its success in women’s volleyball with a sixth European title and there were table tennis medals at stake in Europe as well. Austria won its first ever team gold medal and Dimitrij Ovtcharov of Germany efficiently defended his men’s singles crown.

Chinese dominance has reached such heights that it has now spread west. Six different winners of the European women’s singles have been born in China, in the last twelve championships. This year, Li Jie of the Netherlands was hoping to become the seventh.

But Li lost in the final to Elizabetha Samara, born and bred in Romania, a result which could be described as something of a shock. It might even be said to be a giantkilling.

Next week: Sitting volleyball and Olympic football qualification in North America


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