Xie Zhongbo took off, stretched out and unleashed a smash with all the power he could muster. The shuttle shot past the net before landing at the feet of the stranded pair of Lee Jae-jin and Hwang Ji-man. The decisive stroke not only completed a 2-1 win for Xie and his doubles partner Guo Zhendong, but also sealed the 3-1 victory over South Korea for China on Sunday in Jakarta, Indonesia, in the final of the Thomas Cup, the biennial badminton world men's team championship. The terminator role of Xie, a previously little-known shuttler from Sichuan and the only one from the province in the China squad, befits the world-title-winning campaign, China's first major sports triumph since the southwestern province was devastated by last week's earthquake. An estimated 50,000 people are now dead or missing. 'I have been following the satellite TV coverage of the rescue and relief efforts,' a tearful Xie told CCTV after tossing his shirt into the stands in celebration. 'Before the final, I didn't know what else to do besides offering donations but now I hope this trophy could provide some consolation.' Like many other sections of mainland society, China's elite athletes, most of whom are preparing to take part in the Olympic Games, have been distracted from their daily routines. National teams under the State General Sports Administration, or the sports ministry, are offering cash donations. Basketball star Yao Ming , who is nursing a foot injury in the US, was the most generous individual donor, giving 2 million yuan (HK$2.24 million). Defending Olympic high hurdles champion Liu Xiang , the country's other big sports star, contributed 500,000 yuan. Chinese athletes first contributed to disaster relief in the wake of the 2003 Sars crisis. But this time around, the disaster struck in a much more horrific manner and at a crucial time. China's sports machine was ready to run in full gear just two months before the start of the first Olympic Games on its home soil. Reinforcing national pride has been a main theme of the mainland athletes' campaign, but now it carries an emphatic note of tribute to the quake victims. 'I guess the earthquake could give Chinese athletes some extra motivation in the Beijing Olympics,' said Wei Jizhong , a former deputy sports minister. 'Sometimes the emotion or psychological factor can tip the balance in a close competition.' That seemed to be the case with the Chinese men's badminton team. They entered the Thomas Cup on the back of a dismal run and disciplinary trouble. Coach Li Yongbo even warned before the tournament began that China was likely to have its four-year stranglehold on the title broken in Jakarta. But Chinese shuttlers filed into the arena for the final roaring 'Bravo China', galvanised by the tragedy that had hit Sichuan. It is unclear whether the inspiration drawn from the despair and heroics in Sichuan will raise the standard of China's athletes in August, but they may feel more courage and responsibility rather than the sheer weight of expectation for medals from the country's sports officialdom. While it may be a source of motivation for Chinese athletes, the earthquake has most immediately been a source of loss and disruption to preparations for the Beijing Olympics. Under arm-twisting from mainland opinion leaders, the Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (Bocog) decided to suspend the domestic torch relay for three days in line with the national mourning period that began on Monday. State media said yesterday that the relay would resume tomorrow where it left off and without missing any of its stops. There have been appeals for designers of the Olympics opening ceremony to weave care for the quake survivors into its themes. But some experts say plans should not be changed since the Olympics is intended as a celebration of humanity rather than a sheer sporting spectacle. 'I'm not for drastic changes to the Games proceedings because we were hit by the earthquake,' said Ren Hai , an Olympic cultural studies researcher with Beijing Sports University. 'Admittedly, we have very few, if any, precedents to follow as a disaster-affected host nation. But if we look at the 1972 Munich Games, we would learn how an Olympic host should deal with a crisis.' In Munich, 11 Israeli athletes were abducted and killed in the thick of the Games by Palestinian terrorists who invaded the Olympic village. 'Even under those circumstances, the Olympics just halted for one day and rounded up its full proceedings without any further hitch,' said Mr Ren. But some in the mainland have a more negative view of the torch relay. 'Isn't it ridiculous that the torch still continues when so many died?' asked one angry netizen on a mainland chat room. Another went even further: 'I think not only should the torch relay be stopped altogether but the Olympic Games should be postponed. I think the international community would understand this.' Clearly, the Games have now become a bigger challenge for the leadership in Beijing. It is torn between staging a spectacular Games and showing concern for millions of grieving citizens. Zheng Xiaojiu , a researcher on Olympic culture at the Humanistic Olympic Studies Centre at Renmin University, insisted China should provide a 'joyous' Olympic Games. 'I think while the torch relay can be scaled down, the opening ceremony of the Games on August 8 cannot, because the Olympics is not only for China but also for the world. The world's Olympics should not be affected by a natural disaster in China,' Professor Zheng said. He said it might not be necessary to mourn the dead at the opening ceremony, despite what some are saying now, given that the Games are still 21/2 months away. Bocog has not said whether any special gestures will be made during the Olympics opening ceremony. But some are confident that public enthusiasm for the Games will return. 'There's no need for the authorities to do anything to rekindle the people's excitement because the Olympic atmosphere will automatically come back when the Games start in August,' said Yu Wanli , a professor at the School of International Studies at Peking University. But China's ambition to use the Games to showcase its rising economic and political power may have lost steam. 'It's totally out of the government's expectation,' said Chen Gang , a research fellow with the East Asian Institute at the National University of Singapore. 'They want to use it to show their international status has been lifted and demonstrate their economic and political power ... but now they're besieged by various global and domestic problems.' While the priority is clearly quake relief, in line with the pledges by President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao's to practise people-first governance, Dr Chen believes there is still time for Beijing to refocus efforts on the Games. 'When preliminary disaster work is completed, I think China can take more time to refocus on the Olympics. If the earthquake had happened in July, the situation would have been different as I believe they would have cut down the scale,' he said. One of the positives to draw from last week's tragedy is the unprecedented openness and transparency displayed by mainland government officials and the traditionally secretive army. It is too early to say how China will overcome the crisis, but for many the meaning of the Olympics has changed since the quake struck. The angry show of nationalism directed against western media and governments for their perceived bias towards China, following disruptions to the torch relay by protesters targeting mainland human rights abuses and authorities' handling of recent deadly protests in Tibet, has been replaced by a display of patriotism. Citizens have banded together to contribute to the rescue and relief efforts. As the torch passed through Jiangxi and Zhejiang provinces last week before the mourning began, a festive atmosphere was evident, but the routes were lined with donation boxes and with eye-catching banners reading: 'We are together, brother and sisters in Sichuan!', 'Let's turn the Olympic spirit into love!' and 'China, we love you!' 'Although we're here to celebrate the Olympics, it doesn't mean we have forgotten our Sichuan victims,' said 23-year-old Cao Ping , who was among the crowd in Jinggangshan when the torch passed through on Thursday. 'In this time of hardship, I think we have to stand united and we have to show the world that we haven't fallen down and that we will face the future with bravery and hope.'