Kazakh's gold is Olympic ideal

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 10:42pm


There was a time, before state, commercial and scholastic sponsorship of sports stars took off, when it seemed unthinkable that professionals could be allowed to compete in the Olympic Games. Now that the charade of amateurism has long since ended, Olympic hopefuls who are not fully supported one way or the other, and handsomely rewarded for success, are the exception to the rule.

Country and athlete-shopping, too, is not new to the Olympics, as athletes seek or are offered opportunities elsewhere for advancement and selection. True, it is subject to the rules of particular sports and the International Olympic Committee's citizenship requirements. And it is hard to imagine the link between Olympic success and patriotic pride being broken. But citizenship has become more fluid. We are thinking, of course, of Hunan-born Chinshanlo, formerly Zhao Changling, who won a weightlifting gold medal - for Kazakhstan - in the London Olympics while China's representative fell by the wayside. That affronted patriotic sports fans, who directed their ire at officials for letting Chinshanlo go. She moved to Kazakhstan in 2008, apparently with the consent of Chinese weightlifting officials, after the team from the central Asian nation saw her potential during a visit to Hunan .

Good for those officials. They may want to hide somewhere right now, but they have inadvertently put their finger on a flaw in a state sports system of physically identifying potential world and Olympic champions among 1.3 billion people from an early age. It cannot identify personal qualities of dedication, perseverance and self-belief that are also hallmarks of champions.

Chinshanlo's cross-border journey to the gold-medal podium and the blessing of Chinese authorities are entirely in keeping with the Olympic ideal of friendly competition that is not just about winning, but participating. After all, the Olympic charter does say the Games are competitions between athletes in individual or team events and not between countries.