But another city plays a big, if much quieter, role in China's windup for the games: Kunming, capital of Yunnan province in Southwest China, is the most important aspect of Olympic preparation that you've never heard of. Chinese know it as the Spring City, so called for its year-round temperate climate. At an elevation of about 1,900 meters, and with significantly cleaner air than Beijing, Kunming has been China's national high-elevation training base for more than 30 years.
In fact, Kunming's two major training complexes—Hongta Sports Center and Haigeng Training Base—have been a beehive of sports activity, and should only get busier as the Olympics draw near.
"We will be very busy between now and the Olympics," said Zhang Tianyou, general director at Haigeng National Training Center in Kunming.
We went out to Haigeng recently to have a look around. The trip gave us a glance at an important but little-known place in China's sports world, and resulted in a precious opportunity get on the pitch with the women's football team (more on that later).
Haigeng National Training Center
Haigeng's setting on Dianchi Lake, past Kunming's award-winning Lakeview Golf Club and an abundance of spiffy new condominium developments, is quiet and clear-skied, and relatively isolated. As professional tennis player Yanina Wickmayer said after playing in a match at Haigeng in November, the location can be both good and bad for athletes.
"The facilities are nice, but it's out here in the middle of nowhere," Wickmayer said. "But that could be good if you're trying to really focus on your training for a little while."
Athletes, coaches and team managers stay onsite in the complex's many dormitories and hotel rooms.
Hongta Sports Center
If Haigeng calls to mind the China of 20 years ago, Hongta Sports Center is a gleaming $58 million monument to China's future hopes. Just 10 minutes' drive from Haigeng, Hongta was built in 2000 by the Hongta cigarette company, a major economic driver for Yunnan province. While Haigeng is used almost exclusively by professional athletes, Hongta doubles as a sports club for the general public. The general public can use all of its extensive facilities and every weekend, it hosts amateur football matches.
Tags: altitude training, football, Haigeng, Hongta, Kunming, Olympic training, soccer
If you're in Beijing, you can see some water polo action this week, as well as get a sneak preview of the Yingtung Natatorium (英东游泳馆) at a steep discount compared to the price of an Olympic ticket.
The Yingtung Natatorium is located in the Olympic complex out at the Fifth Ring Road. The closest subway station, about 10 minutes' walk away, is Huixinxijie Beikou on Line 5. Head east from there, and find the pool to the south. Tickets are 10 or 20 yuan on weekdays, 30 or 50 yuan for weekend games.
Tuesday March 18 (Women)
3:00 Australia defeated China, 9-6
4:30 USA defeated Russia, 15-9
Wednesday March 19 (Men)
3:00 China v. Shanghai
4:30 Guangdong v. Australia
Thursday March 20 (Women)
3:00 Australia v. Russia
4:30 China v. USA
Friday March 21 (Men)
3:00 China v. Guangdong
4:30 Shanghai v. Australia
Saturday March 22 (Women)
3:00 Australia v. USA
4:30 Russia v. China
Sunday March 23 (Men)
3:00 Guangdong v. Shanghai
4:30 China v. Australia
Link: Water Polo Open Homepage
Tags: Good Luck Beijing, test event, water polo, Yingtung Natatorium
The Chinese team played Thailand to a 3-3 tie in a friendly match played in Kunming this weekend, and faces Australia in a World Cup qualifying match in the same city on March 26.
Image: Chinese Football Association
Tags: football, Seattle, soccer
The double header had a little bit of everything you'd expect from a preseason major league competition—hot dogs, beer, some sloppy plays and a rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," sung by a few American fans called down to the field during the seventh inning stretch. Beijing even had unseasonably good baseball weather—sunny skies both days and a high temperature Sunday of 17 degrees Celsius (63 degrees Fahrenheit).
Does Baseball Have A Shot?
The series is part of MLB's efforts to create a market for the game in China, and Dodgers manager Joe Torre and MLB commissioner Bud Selig both waxed optimistic about the future of baseball in China.
"I have no doubt in my mind that in a decade, baseball will be big in China," MLB.com quotes Selig as saying. In reality, the game's future here isn't so certain and MLB still has a long way to go to even come close to the success that the NBA has had with basketball. That was evidenced by the below-capacity attendance in an easily accessible stadium in a city of 15 million people.
"I think it would take a while to make baseball work in China," said Jeffrey Cheung, a Beijing resident from Hong Kong. "First you have to have some parks and get kids playing, and get some good players in college, and then maybe put together a decent national team."
Cheung has been a baseball fan since he was first introduced to it as a college student in Pennsylvania. He said that he would like to be involved in growing the game in China, but that any efforts will face big challenges in one key area—getting facilities built. "If you spend the money to build a stadium and no one plays in it, it is very obvious and embarrassing to the government," he said. Unlike a basketball gymnasium, a baseball diamond can't be used for much other than the game it's intended for.
It also it seemed the MLB missed some opportunities this weekend to make the game relatable to an audience that knows little about it. The electronic scoreboard had no Chinese on it (except for the characters Zhongguo Sai – China Competition—on the series logo). The teams' names, the statistics and short tutorials about some baseball terms were all displayed in English. And while everyone received a program and a set of noisemakers on entering, the program lacked rosters and statistics.
And much to the chagrin of some American fans, vendors ran out of hot dogs before the game even started on Sunday, and on Saturday they ran out of both hot dogs and beer before the seventh inning stretch.
A Fan is Born
"He's really lucky today," said Li's mother, Xu Jingli, who was at the game with Li and his father. The family of sports fans also attended a softball tournament in Beijing last year. Xu said the family knew the rules of the game, but Li has still never played it. On Sunday, an American fan at the game taught him to swing his new bat, but he won't likely have any pitches to swing at soon.
Worth the Trip
While one new fan was created, a veteran demonstrated the irrational behavior of the extremely dedicated. Native Southern Californian Richard Marcotte flew to Beijing from his home in Kentucky just to see the game. He carried a Dodgers blue foam #1 finger and a homemade sign that read "#1 LA Fan." Marcotte arrived in time for the seventh inning of the Saturday game, and was booked on a flight back home on Monday.
"I've got a really nice wife who let me come out here," he said. "Especially with a four-year-old and a six-year-old at home,"
Ironically, Marcotte came to the Beijing game in part because he couldn't get a ticket to the Dodgers' sold-out pre-season game against the Boston Red Sox in the 90,000-seat Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Since he works for a subsidiary of Delta Airlines, his flight to Tokyo was free, and his Tokyo-Beijing flight cost him about $200 roundtrip.
Marcotte added that his homemade sign caused a small security stir. Event security officials brought an English-speaking interpreter to find out the meaning of "#1 LA Fan from Kentucky," ostensibly to make sure that his sign didn't include any references to sensitive issues. That's one concern that could get interesting when millions of foreigners come to Beijing in August to root for their home teams.
Overall, the games were at least a start for MLB's overtures to China. Maybe next time the league brings a game here, the local kids lining up for the pre-game batting cages will know how to swing a bat.
Los Angeles Dodgers' China Series 2008 Web site
A Danwei.com story about security shenanigans during Saturday's game.
Tags: baseball, Beijing, Dodgers, MLB, Padres, Wukesong
From Xinhua: French coach's days appear to be numbered
Tags: football, Loisel, soccer, women
The 6'5" (1.97-meter) Zhao, the team's linchpin, has not seen much action since leading the team to a gold medal at the Athens Games in 2004. Feng has been out for about a year following knee surgery. The pair returned for a friendly series against Cuba, which includes matches in Fuzhou, Jinjiang and Xiamen.
Zhao looked healthy and very happy to be playing in the first four matches of the series. She is averaging 10.7 points per game, according to this report from China Daily.
Tags: Feng Kun, volleyball, women, Zhao Ruirui
In this story for CNBC.com, Darren Rovell explains the trouble that Reebok was in before Yao's injury, the extent to which the brand's success depends on the Rockets center and the false belief that Chinese interest in the NBA is all about Yao.
Rovell writes: "The troubling trend for adidas and Reebok is the fact that, as the Chinese watch more basketball and as the players travel more to China, Yao Ming is definitely losing some steam."
I can attest, from talking to friends here, to the fact that Chinese fans don't blindly adore Yao Ming. They are proud to have Chinese players in the NBA, but like sports fans everywhere, they express their sophistication by criticizing superstars like Yao and their individuality by picking their own favorites— Lebron James, Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett are all players that friends have told me they like.
Tags: basketball, Yao Ming
Houston Chronicle reports. He was averaging 22 points and 10.8 rebounds per game and the team's record was 37-20. Yao has had an injury-plagued career. Last year he missed 32 games with a leg fracture; the year before, he missed 27 with a toe infection.
The Houston Rockets center will be healthy in time for the Olympics, according to his trainer.
Tags: basketball, rockets, Yao Ming
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