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:
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.
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.
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
is retiring at 29, several news outlets announced Monday. With four Olympic golds and 10 world titles, the 3-meter springboard diver is one of the most dominant ever in her sport, one of just four divers with four Olympic golds. Her retirement comes as no surpise – Guo has not competed since the 2009 National Games – but it marks the end of a groundbreaking career.
Along with Liu Xiang and Yao Ming, Guo is head and shoulders above her fellow Chinese athletes in terms of star power. And she puts that to work with a host of endorsements — shilling everything from swimsuits to yogurt to laundry detergent. Both
Coca-Cola and McDonald's featured her prominently in their pre-Olympic ad blitzes.
Diving officials haven't always been supportive of Guo's career out of the pool. After the 2004 Olympics in Athens, she was suspended from the team for putting too much energy into commercial activities, and had to make a public self-criticism to get back on the team.
Four years later, her popularity and two-gold medal performance in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing helped Guo move from 28th to 4th on Forbes China's annual celebrity rankings.
Guo is unlikely to disappear quietly back to her home province of Hebei, or even nearby Beijing. She appears just as frequently in the tabloids as she does in the sports media, and is rumored to be getting married later this year to long-time boyfriend Kenneth Fok, son of tycoon Timothy Tsun-Ting Fok, who also happens to be president of the Hong Kong Olympic Committee.
Tags: diving, Guo Jingjing, sports marketing
USA Diving has also inked a contract with Li Ning, making it the team's official apparel sponsor through 2012. The brand's other non-Chinese national team sponsorships include Spain and Argentina's basketball teams, and USA Table Tennis.
Although these signings and Li Ning's opening of an Oregon concept store and R&D; center have all lead to speculation that this could be China's first brand to become an international powerhouse, I've always said that these moves are more about creating an appearance for Chinese customers than about seriously competing with Nike and Adidas globally. Quoted in People's Daily, Ben Cavender of China Market Research Group puts it pretty clearly: ""What they don't admit to and what they are being slightly cagey about is that their strategy is to firm their position in China as a domestic brand. They can appeal to a certain Chinese nationalism by playing on being able to compete head-to-head with the major international brands because they have these big-time athletes."
Related: Can China's hottest sportswear brand go global?
Evan Turner image: Hi.baidu.com
Tags: Baron Davis, diving, Evan Turner, Li Ning, Shaq, sports apparel, sports marketing
China's national games haven't even officially started yet, but they are already the backdrop for an ugly scandal in one of the country's most treasured sports. According to domestic media reports, a diving judge resigned in the middle of competition, saying she could no longer take part in a competition that she asserts is a complete sham.
The official reason for her departure was illness, particularly a cardiovascular ailment, but the referee told Jiebao Lianmeng she was quitting because the competitions are fixed.
"I am leaving early, not only because I am sick, but also because I'm fed up with the shadiness in diving this year," said the referee, given the pseudonym of Ma Ming by the media. "To my surprise, all of the gold medals are decided internally ahead of time."
According to ChinaEconomic.net, on October 10 "Ma" told a reporter who she believed would win the next four gold medals in the national games. All of her picks turned out to be correct--He Chong in the men's 3 meters; Wang Hao and Hong Lai in the women's 10-meter synchro; Wu Xia and Chen Qinqin in the women's 3-meter synchro; Zhou Luxin in the men's 10 meters.
The woman behind the fixed results, according to "Ma," is Zhou Jihong, the head of the diving federation and deputy director for Chinese aquatics. According to "Ma," she has enough power to subtly let her wishes be known and then sit back and watch the results play out the way she designed.
In a national games press conference, Zhou insisted that the judge quit only because of illness and was quick to dismiss the allegations:
"Whether it's international competition, or Olympics, world championships, whatever, before the competition there are always predictions. It is normal for some of these predictions to come true."
In addition to the four results listed above, "Ma" also pointed to the men's 10-meter synchro event as an example of competition fixing:
"The men's 10-meter synchro final is an obvious example. Lin Yue [林跃] and Cao Yuan's [曹缘] performance was clearly inferior to Zhou Luxin [周吕鑫] and Wang Jiankai [王建凯], but the victory was awarded to Lin and his partner, because this competition was already decided, and it couldn't be changed. Lin Yue had a pulled abdominal muscle, so throughout the competition his performance was mediocre. In the preliminaries, he and Cao Yuan were only in sixth place. But on the day of the finals, Lin and Cao did a dive that was obviously not good, but they still got a score that was good enough for a win over Zhou and his partner."
Though "Ma" asserts that Zhou Jihong has the final say in meet results now, apparently she hasn't always gotten her way. In 2005, "diving prince" Tian Liang mounted a comeback of sorts at the National Games. After the 2004 Olympics in Athens, in which he won a gold and a bronze medal, Tian Liang—then the boyfriend of "diving princess" Guo Jingjing--was kicked off the national team for putting too much energy into commercial projects. The disgraced Tian Liang won a gold medal at the games, and according to "Ma," a 55-year-old veteran who worked that event, his win went against the wishes of Zhou Jihong.
At the same meet, "Ma" also says that she and the other judges defied Zhou Jihong's orders in awarding the women's 10-meter synchro gold to a pair from Hunan, "Ma's" home province. "She said it was because of my officiating."
Asked for concrete evidence of the corruption, "Ma" replied:
"I don't have any concrete evidence. Because if she did this kind of thing, she'd have to talk to all of the judges, which would give the impression that she actually doesn't have too much influence. The scary thing is how if she so much as slightly reveals her intentions, someone will take care of everything for her. As an official at these national games, I have more than once heard another referee say: 'This gold medal the leader already decided must be given to so-and-so.' Currently in the Chinese diving world, only Zhou Jihong can make these decisions."
Zhou Luxin image: Xinhua
Zhou Jihong image: News.QQ
Tags: corruption, diving, National Games
As expected, Guo won the 3-meter springboard competition at the FINA World Championships in Rome, crushing the competition with a total score of 388.20. The runner-up, Emilie Heymans of Canada, was nowhere near Guo with her score of 346.45. The text below goes on to recount some of Guo's career highlights, and crown her as the woman to beat if she decides to compete in the 2012 Olympics in London. A piece on the inside called simply "Guo Jingjing: I want to go to London," answer the question of whether the 28-year-old plans to continue diving.
Guo, one of four Chinese athletes who commands big-time marketing appeal, also occupies the ad space on the page, shilling for a Chinese dairy producer.
Titan Sports is China's leading sports newspaper, putting out issues every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It is published jointly by Hunan Art and Culture Publishing House and Titan Publishing House (Danwei).
Tags: diving, Guo Jingjing, sports marketing, Titan front page
China also ceded the women's 1-meter springboard title, which was claimed by Julia Pakhalina of Russia, with Wu Minxia taking the silver. Qin Kai won the men's 1-meter springboard competition, with Zhang Xinhua coming in second. Australia's Matthew Mitcham, the platform diver who spoiled China's diving sweep aspirations at last summer's Olympics, came in third. Qin also won the 3-meter synchro springboard competition the following day, with partner Wang Feng.
One of China's biggest sports stars and the most-decorated Olympic female diver of all time, Guo Jingjing, opens competition today in the 3-meter individual event, and is expected to be a contender in the finals tomorrow. The diving competition ends Saturday, July 25, with the men's 10-meter synchro event. A complete list of starts and results can be seen on the FINA Web site.
Water polo and synchronized swimming
Water polo play kicks off Monday as well. The Chinese women opened against Hungary, losing 10-7 after coming out to a strong start that had them in a 4-4 tie in the second quarter. China came out of nowhere last summer to place fifth in Olympic competition, with surprising wins over Russia and Italy, and one-point losses to powerhouses Australia and the United States. The men are not as strong--expect them to get walked over by Montenegro (population 678,000, to China's 1.3 billion) Tuesday.
In synchronized swimming, China took bronze in the team technical event Sunday. There are six more competitions to go, with one gold medal awarded every day from Monday through Saturday.
Tags: Chen Ruolin, diving, FINA World Championships, Guo Jingjing, Qin Kai, Wang Feng, water polo, Wu Minxia, Zhang Xinhua
Granted, tonight's prime time slots on China's sports channel, CCTV-5, are eaten up by some other popular events—AFC Champions League football/soccer, and Asian Cup table tennis—but surely there's a way to get better placement for the top Chinese athlete competing today. The whole national diving championship series has been relegated to afternoon TV. This is just silly. Not only is the series a chance to see gold medallists like Qin Kai compete, but it's a chance to glimpse emerging talent like Li Shixin (李世鑫), a promising young springboard diver who was dubbed the "Degree of Difficulty King" (yes, I know, a terribly unwieldy nickname) after nailing a 3.9 degree of difficulty dive in the men's finals yesterday.
Tags: diving, Guo Jingjing, Li Shixin, Qin Kai
And, just in time for her return to the pool, a new set of fashion photos of Guo, who is as much tabloid star as she is sports star, have been released. See them here.
Guo Jingjing image: sports.scol.com.cn
Tags: diving, Guo Jingjing, sports marketing
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