It's not the Olympic spirit; it's the gold

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 September, 2008, 12:00am

The disproportionate number of gold medals won by China at the Olympics - 51 compared with 21 silver and 28 bronze - was perhaps no coincidence: China's obsession with gold medals permeates every layer of society.

Despite putting in equal amounts of hard work, silver and bronze medallists are often awarded significantly less prize money.

In Athens the central government awarded each gold medallist 200,000 yuan, with 150,000 for silver and 80,000 for bronze. But when it comes to other corporate and charity rewards, silver medallists often receive only half of what the gold medallists get, and sometimes nothing.

'In China, it's not only about participating. Winning a gold medal still makes a big difference. People remember only the gold medallist,' said China Stars Sports Culture Communications general manager Wang Qi , who has promoted sports stars in China for many years. 'There is still a lack of true understanding of the Olympic spirit.'

Appeal and character can help a non-gold medallist gain popularity, but such cases are exceptions. And it's not just any gold medal - the Olympic gold medallist wears a special halo.

Liu Bing , a sports management professor at Shanghai University of Sports, said: 'A gold medal in a world championship cannot compare to one in the Olympics.

'It is the ultimate prize. It brings pride not only to the athlete, but to everyone around him, and every community he is a member of.'

But for a provincial government, a main actor in the country's state-operated sports apparatus, winning gold is more than about feeling proud; it's somehow also an indicator of the province's strength.

This week Henan's provincial sports bureau chief expressed his displeasure at the national team's swift and unprotesting acceptance of Athens taekwondo champion Chen Zhong's disqualification after her British opponent appealed against a quarter-final result.

He said this was 'unfair to Chen Zhong, and unfair to Henan'.

Self-reflection must be carried out since Henan won three gold medals four years ago but none this time, he said. The province must adjust its strategy in fielding more athletes in the sports in which China won the most gold.

The provinces nurturing the most gold medallists this time were Jiangsu (7.5 gold medals), Liaoning (6), Guangdong (5), Beijing (4.5) and Shandong (4).

These are also the country's top provinces in gross domestic product.

'Under the current sports system, a change in emphasis on the gold is unlikely to happen for many years to come,' Professor Liu said.