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FINA Worlds: China improving in swimming, water polo

Friday, 5th August 2011 ~ Maggie ~ Link ~ Comments (0)

Sun Yang
Sun Yang

China finished aquatics world championships on a high note last weekend, with 19-year-old Sun Yang snagging the host country's fifth swimming gold and setting a world record in the men's 1,500-meter freestyle. Sun, who also won the 800-meter freestyle event and took silver in the 400, finished in 14:34.14, beating Grant Hackett's 10-year-old record.

Sun has taken over the spotlight from teammate Zhang Lin, who became China's first male swimming champion when he won the men's 800-meter freestyle in world record time in Rome in 2009.

China was second in the gold medal count at the FINA championships, hosted in Shanghai in three spectacular brand-new venues at Shanghai Oriental Sports Center. The host took 15 golds to the United States' 17, but had the most overall — 36 medals to the United States' 32. China strengthened its command of the diving, sneaked past Australia for the No. 2 spot in swimming, and were surprise silver-medal winners in women's water polo.

Here's a quick sport-by-sport tally of China's performance:

Diving
China swept all 10 gold medals in the diving competition, showing to no one's surprise that they have plenty more talent to extend their domination of the sport at the 2012 Olympics in London. China also won four silvers, for 14 total diving medals.

Water Polo
China's women's team were a Cinderella this year, making it all the way to the final before losing to Greece, 9-8. Granted, it was an unusual year in the women's tournament, with none of the quarterfinal games going to the favored team — 2009 champion United States and runner-up Canada were bounced in that round, as were 2008 Olympic champions Netherlands and perennial contender Australia. The Chinese team's second-place finish raises hopes that they can boost the country's low team-sport medal count in the next Olympics. The men's team missed the playoffs after losing all of their games in group play.

Swimming
China was second in both the gold medal (5) and total medal (14) counts, surpassing frequent runner-up Australia but still a far cry from the United States, which had 16 gold medals. Two Chinese swimmers who won gold and set world records at the 2009 championships in Rome, Zhang Lin and Liu Zige, were much quieter this year. Zhang only competed in relays, and Liu took bronze in the women's 200 butterfly, losing to teammate Jiao Liuyang.

China's gold medalists:

Women's 200-meter IM: Ye Shiwen, 2:08.90
Women's 100-meter backstroke: Zhao Jing, 59.05
Men's 800-meter freestyle: Sun Yang, 7:38.57
Women's 200-meter butterfly: Jiao Liuyang 2:05.55
Men's 1,500-meter freestyle: Sun Yang, 14:34.14 (WR)

Open water swimming and synchronized swimming
Yes, I know, these two have nothing in common with each other. But China failed to win any gold medals in either. Russia swept the synchro competition with seven golds.

Sun Yang image: Titan Sportsphoto#

Tags: diving, FINA, Sun Yang, swimming, water polo, Zhang Lin

Looking back: China's top 10 sports stories in 2009

Monday, 21st December 2009 ~ Maggie ~ Link ~ Comments (0)

The Bird's Nest is just one of a growing number of white elephants in China. Jinan's Olympic Stadium, above, was built for this year's National Games.
The Bird's Nest is just one of a growing number of white elephants in China. Jinan's Olympic Stadium, above, was built for this year's National Games.
Back in January, we speculated about what sports headlines would make the biggest impact this year. While many of the things we predicted came to pass (Beijing Guo'an won the national soccer championship, Liu Xiang's return was watched by millions), China's sports world had plenty of surprises in 2009. Here are the 10 we think mattered the most:

1. Chinese soccer league match fixing
Bribery, match fixing, betting—the Chinese Soccer League has long been tainted with some of sport's worst scourges. In November, police arrested 16 players, coaches and officials in an attempt to clean up the league. But observers say that a lot more still needs to be done.

2.Chinese swimming makes a splash in Rome
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When Zhang Lin became China's first male swimming world champ in Rome this summer--winning the 800-meter freestyle in world record time--media quickly crowned him the Liu Xiang of the pool. But unlike Liu, Zhang had some backup from his teammates, as China put in its best ever performance at the world meet. With 4 golds and 10 medals, China was behind only the United States and Germany. Though Zhang Lin dominated the headlines, it was the women—led by Liu Zige and Zhao Jing--who were responsible for China's breakout. Female swimmers accounted for all but two of China's medals, and three of the four golds.

3. Diving judging scandal

China's national games diving competition was shaken up when one judge quit late in the competition, and then leveled accusations that results were fixed and that Zhou Jihong, head of the Chinese diving federation, calls all the shots.

4. Sports official spills secrets
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Former national volleyball coach and long-time senior sports administration leader Yuan Weimin published his memoir, "Yuan Weimin: Storms of the Chinese Sports World" in October. Among the stories in Yuan's memoir that are making sports officials squirm is the tale of a shady vote-trading arrangement that put Belgium's Jacques Rogge at the head of the International Olympic Committee and brought the 2008 games to Beijing.

4. Empty Nest

The Beijing Olympics' iconic building, Beijing National Stadium--aka the Bird's Nest, aka a $400 million project that takes $70 million to maintain annually, aka a venue that required the relocation of thousands of families—has hosted only four events since the games ended 16 months ago (including an opera and a martial arts show that couldn't have possibly turned a profit). The situation is so bad that in the fall, the state took back operating control of the venue from its private owners.

5. Liu Xiang's return

A grimacing Liu Xiang limping around the Bird's Nest track was one of the most potent images of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. The former Olympic and world record holder in the 110-meter hurdles, an athlete who rivals Yao Ming in prominence in China, was unable to run because of an injury to his Achilles tendon. More than a year later, he put doubts to rest about whether his career was finished, returning to competition in the Shanghai Golden Grand Prix, where he finished second in a 13.15-second photo finish.

6. China win's women's curling worlds

Curling? On a top 10 list? Stick with me here… When China's women's curling team won world championships last year, skipper Wang Bingyu and her teammates became instant media stars on the mainland. The current team is China's first generation of curlers, and if Canada doesn't figure out how to beat them at the 2010 Winter Olympics, curling will become only the second team sport in which China has won an Olympic gold medal (women's volleyball being the other, in 1984 and 2004).

7. Dealmaker Kenny Huang

Last May, news broke that a Chinese investor was nearing a deal to purchase a 15 percent stake in the Cleveland Cavaliers NBA franchise. That investor was Huang Jianhua, or Kenny Huang, who subsequently made a deal to promote youth baseball with the Chinese Baseball Association and to purchase a team in the Chinese Basketball Association. Last week, reports indicated that the Cavs purchase might go through before the end of the year. The lead on the deal is now Albert Hung, but Huang's still very much involved and seems to have dreams of a Chinese sports empire--keep an eye on this guy.

9. HSBC Champions

Shanghai's HSBC Champions golf tournament was elevated this year to World Golf Championship status, with $7 million in prize money. Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els finished first and second, and China got its last look at a squeaky clean Tiger Woods, who finished sixth. In his reporting on the event for ESPN, Shanghaiist editor Dan Washburn wrote that the event was well timed, as the inclusion of golf in the Olympics could provide a boost to the sport's popularity and official support here. HSBC Champions returns to Shanghai next year, which means it will take place alongside the Shanghai World Expo.

10. China disappears from the NBA

While Huang buys his way into the NBA, Chinese players are limping out. Yao Ming is missing the current season with a foot fracture, and the Nets' Yi Jianlian played just four games before sitting out at least the next 24 with injuries. The next great hope, Sun Yue, was dropped by the Lakers, then picked up and dropped by the New York Knicks. The NBA could really use another once-in-a-lifetime athlete like Yao right about now.

Related:
Zhang Lin, China's first male swimming champ

China Daily: Enthusiasm fades for Bird's Nest

LA Times on Yuan Weimin

ESPN.go.com: Olympics makes China major player in golf

Tags: Bird's Nest, curling, Dan Washburn, football, HSBC Champions, Huang Jianhua, Kenny Huang, Liu Xiang, Liu Zige, NBA, soccer, Sun Yue, Yi Jianlian, Yuan Weimin, Zhang Lin

Zhang Lin, China's first male swimming champ

Friday, 31st July 2009 ~ Maggie ~ Link ~ Comments (0)

Zhang Lin on the front page of Titan sports news, next to the headline: Lin's Breakthrough
Zhang Lin on the front page of Titan sports news, next to the headline: Lin's Breakthrough
When Zhang Lin became China's first male swimming champion on Wednesday, he also quickly became the top sports story in the country. Zhang broke the world record formerly held by Australian Grant Hackett by more than 6 seconds, posting a time of 7:32.12. It is the first gold for a Chinese man in major international competition. Zhang's training under Hackett's coach in Australia in 2007 was given much of the credit for his success at last year's Olympics, where he won silver in the 400 meter freestyle. There is no 800-meter event in the Olympics.

Zhang is drawing comparisons to Liu Xiang and Yao Ming as a trailblazing Chinese athlete. And with both the hurdler and the basketball star nursing major injuries, Zhang is undoubtedly China's top active sportsman (sorry, Yi Jianlian). Look for him on ice cream commercials and city bus advertisements soon. He swims again Sunday in the 1,500, an event in which he placed 7th at the Beijing games. In a rare case of collar-popping by a Chinese coach, his coach is predicting another win Sunday, according to Hong Kong newspaper The Standard

Getting less press is Zhao Jing, who took the gold and set a new world record in the women's 50-meter backstroke (27.06 seconds). China's women have won four medals at the games—Liu Zige's silver in the 200 butterfly, a one-three finish for Zhao and Gao Chang in the 50 backstroke, and a gold medal for the four-by-200 backstroke relay team.

Here's a look at a few more Chinese newspapers that highlighted Zhang's win.
Beijing Evening News: After waiting for years, Zhang Lin can finally exhale
Beijing Evening News: After waiting for years, Zhang Lin can finally exhale

Beijing Youth Daily: Lin's Breakthrough
Beijing Youth Daily: Lin's Breakthrough

Literally,
Literally, "Zhang Lin sword-fingers 1,500 meters." Basically, he's ready to take on the next challenge.

The Beijing Evening news gave the women's 4X200 the front page, but no headline.
The Beijing Evening news gave the women's 4X200 the front page, but no headline.


Tags: Gao Chang, Liu Zige, swimming, swimming world championships, world record, Zhang Lin, Zhao Jing

Olympic marketing: How did sportswear brands do?

Friday, 29th August 2008 ~ Maggie ~ Link ~ Comments (0)

For sports apparel brands, the Olympics are arguably the most important stage for marketing. So how did the sports marketers fare with the Chinese market in these Olympics? Here's a look at how things played out for Adidas, Li-Ning, Nike, Puma and Speedo.

Adidas

Adidas reportedly shelled out 70 million euros to be an official Olympic sponsor. Adidas gear was also all over Olympians, great for television. But aside from shoes and uniforms, Adidas wasn't particularly visible in Olympic venues. It had no special presence on the Olympic Green, but its beautiful flagship store in Sanlitun near the Workers' Stadium and Workers' Gymnasium saw lots of foot traffic.

Adidas' Olympic sponsorship allowed it to use the Bird's Nest and Olympic logo.
Adidas' Olympic sponsorship allowed it to use the Bird's Nest and Olympic logo.

Its Olympic ad campaign, though beautifully designed and fitting in concept (Together in 2008, Impossible is Nothing), came up short in the personnel categories. That campaign had four primary faces, in sports that are very popular in China--diver Hu Jia, footballer Zheng Zhi, basketball player Sui Feifei and a few women's volleyball players. Hu pulled out due to injury, Zheng and the men's football team had an embarrassing performance and Sui Feifei was only sixth in scoring on Team China. The women's volleyball team played strong in a very tough field, but in the end only came through with the minimum result acceptable to the hometown fans, a bronze medal.

Li-Ning

China's biggest sports apparel brand had the biggest marketing coup of the games—its founder, Li Ning, carrying the Olympic flame on a three-minute slow-motion run to the top of the Bird's Nest, where he lit the Olympic cauldron. The company's stock went up the next day, and Li Ning will always have his stamp on what seems to be an especially important part of the Olympics to Chinese fans.

Li-Ning's storefronts were generic during the games, but there was nothing generic about its opening ceremony product placement.
Li-Ning's storefronts were generic during the games, but there was nothing generic about its opening ceremony product placement.

Li Ning also had its name on the uniforms of China's diving and table tennis teams, who delivered dominant performances, as well as the Spanish national basketball team, which gave Team USA a tough match before losing in the gold medal game.

Nike

Nike's two biggest bets on Chinese athletes were Yi Jianlian and Liu Xiang. Yi was solid but not explosive, averaging 9 points a game. The Chinese national team, wearing Nike jerseys, didn't really exceed expectations, but certainly didn't come up short, making it to the quarterfinals before losing to Lithuania. But Chinese fans were more excited about catching a glimpse of Team USA, who were also sporting Nike's hot new jersey, available in stores all over Beijing.

Nike had to deal with the toughest spin job of any Olympic marketer this year—how to salvage its investment in China's biggest sports star, Liu Xiang, when he didn't even compete in the games. Nike's immediate answer--a full page ad celebrating the love of sport even in defeat--succeeded in becoming part of the stream of catharsis after Liu bowed out. Nike got some negative publicity for its efforts to hunt down netizens who alleged that the shoe company had coerced Liu to drop out rather than lose to Robles.

Nike hedged its big-name bets by backing lesser-known athletes as well.
Nike hedged its big-name bets by backing lesser-known athletes as well.

But Liu and Yi weren't the only athletes that Nike put is name behind. It was all over team China, and ready with full-page ads in China Daily and front-page ads in Titan sports news when any of its athletes won a medal or had a strong performance. Swimmer Zhang Lin (silver medalist), boxer Zou Shiming (gold medalist) and beach volleyball duo Tian Jia and Wang Fei (silver medalists) were just a few of the lower-profile high-achieving athletes that Nike celebrated in its Olympic campaign.

Puma

Dollar for dollar, Puma might have gotten the most of its Olympic investment. Its hopes ran on two spiked shoes-- those of sprinter Usain Bolt, who loped across the finish line to set the 100-meter dash world record. China loves a winner, and Bolt and the dominant Jamaican team were very well-received in Beijing. Jacques Rogge can complain all he wants, but most Chinese don't mind a guy who's willing to revel in his moment.

Speedo

If you weren't wearing a Speedo LZR Racer in this Olympics, you might as well never leave the Water Cube's warm-up pool. Nine out of every 10 swimming gold medals went to LZR wearers. The only complaint that people had about the LZR was that it made swimmers too fast, world records too common. The suit was considered such an integral part of success that Nike agreed to let its swimmers wear LZRs instead of Nike suits. Speedo doesn't have a big presence at Chinese sports retailers—swimwear here tends to be generic instead of branded—but China, along with the rest of the world, has no choice but to see Speedo as the leader in swimwear technology.

Tags: Adidas, athletics, Beijing Olympics, Hu Jia, Li-Ning, Liu Xiang, marketing, Nike, Olympics, Puma, Speedo, Sui Feifei, swimming, Tian Jia, Titan, Usain Bolt, volleyball, Wang Fei, Zhang Lin, Zheng Zhi, Zou Shiming