Li Na bounced in round two, Peng Shuai to face Sharapova in round four

Monday, 27th June 2011 ~ Maggie ~ Link ~ Comments (0)

As Wimbledon enters its second week, there is a Chinese player still in the running, but not the one that most fans would have expected to see still alive. Peng Shuai faces Maria Sharapova at 12:00 noon local time Monday, after Li Na followed her French Open win with a disappointing second-round exit from Wimbledon. She lost (3-6, 6-4, 8-6) to wildcard Sabine Lisicki, a 21-year-old German who is making a comeback after a long absence due to an ankle injury. Lisicki, whose highest world ranking so far is 22, rode her powerful serve (average speed of first serve, 112 mph) to victory over world number four Li.

Although Li's loss is the biggest upset of the tournament so far, and certainly a big disappointment to her, it's something that her fans will need to learn to take in stride. People here seem to have incredibly high expectations for any Chinese athlete that has shown she can compete with the best in the world. Whatever the reason — national pride, thirst for heroes, a disparity between China's political position and its sporting success, or a simple lack of understanding of just how competitive a sport like professional tennis is — fans here seem to expect success to be followed by success and more success.

Fans need to be more patient, Li said after the match, according to this AFP report, which in its headline attributes to her the line "Don't burden me with all your hopes," although the quote or one like it never appears in the story.

Still, Li will of course be looking to approve on this performance in August at the U.S. Open. She might want to consider using some of her French Open prize money to hire a sports psychologist, because she seems to be inconsistent in pressure situations. She blew two match points, committing two unforced errors in the final set against Lisicki. Meanwhile, her opponent rose to the occasion in the final set, slugging out four serves in a row between 122 and 126 mph. Earlier this year at the Australian Open, Li got off to a 6-3 start, but completely lost her edge in the last two sets to lose to Clijsters 3-6, 6-3, 6-3.

For now, China has one more hope alive in this tournament. This year, 25-year-old Peng Shuai reached the fourth round at the Australian Open, and retired from the French Open in the second round due to illness. She has beaten Li Na and Svetlana Kuznetsova this season, and lost to Sharapova in three sets at Indian Wells in March.

Tags: Li Na, Peng Shuai

Chinese badminton continues its shady ways

Thursday, 23rd June 2011 ~ Maggie ~ Link ~ Comments (0)

Olympic champion and current World No. 2 Lin Dan in front of two characters increasingly associated with his name: 退赛 or
Olympic champion and current World No. 2 Lin Dan in front of two characters increasingly associated with his name: 退赛 or "Withdraw from competition."
Aside from domination, what is Chinese badminton best known for? Sadly, the answer is poor sportsmanship—specifically, throwing and no-showing matches, thereby resting its top players and manipulating results to allow its second-tier players to qualify and/or secure favorable seeds for the most important tournaments.

The latest example took place last weekend at the Li-Ning Singapore Open, where China's Lin Dan, aka "Super Dan," withdrew from the final citing a stomach virus. What good fortune for China's badminton delegation — that stomach virus handed Chen Jin the win by forfeit and his first-place finish will improve his seed for the London 2012 Olympics. Olympic gold medalist Lin was booed by Singapore Indoor Stadium's crowd of more than 7,000, who didn't get the show they paid for.

It's not doing any good for China's reputation in the sports world, which already has the taint of poor sportsmanship from gymasts and footballers who are younger than they say they are, and basketball players who are older. It's not good for badminton, which may never be taken seriously as a sport in the United States, and is losing ground to basketball and football in China. And it can't be good for Li-Ning, the sponsor of the Singapore Open, the Chinese team, and of Lin himself.

The Chinese team are hearing it from the badminton press, who are skeptical that Lin was sick, although they concede that the decision to withdraw probably did not rest with him, but with a coach or team leader. BadZine.com editor-in-chief Raphael Sachetat wrote an insightful editorial on the topic earlier this week (No show: is that promotion?), which includes some great detail and background information on the situation. And something else Sachetat wrote more than two years ago seems to still be relevant in the badminton world: "If only Chinese badminton benefits from its own growth, the sport might simply be taken out of the Olympic program someday. Sponsors will then vanish and the little money coming in will be gone for a while. That's what is called shooting oneself in the foot…" (China out of SS finals: shooting itself in the foot).

While China's "strategy" is an openly criticized secret, it doesn't seem to draw the attention that matters most — that of the Badminton World Federation, which seem unable or unwilling to investigate the behavior for the standard-bearers of its sport.

Tags: badminton, Lin Dan

Around the Web: Football fail, Yao retirement countdown, Action sports in China

Thursday, 23rd June 2011 ~ Maggie ~ Link ~ Comments (0)

Football Fail

Life isn't getting any easier for Chinese football fans. Despite playing in Shanghai against a team whose country's population is less than a fifth of Shanghai's, China's men's Olympic team lost its London 2012 qualifier to Oman, 1-0. (Oman humiliates China in Shanghai — China Daily) The Chinese team gets another shot Thursday, this time in the scorching summer sun of Oman. China's women's team is usually a bright spot in the country's football program, but they failed to qualify for the 2011 Women's World Cup, which starts next week in Germany.

Yao Ming: "I do not dare say I am optimistic right now."

After saying a few weeks ago that he badly wants his daughter to see him play in the NBA, Yao Ming seems to be preparing his fans and his team for the likelihood that his playing days are over. Speculation about the big man's retirement has been building since after the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, when he managed to recover from a foot fracture to compete. Despite Houston's strategy last season of limiting his playing time to less than half of each game, he didn't even make it through November. Yao's contract expires June 30 – don't be surprised if you see the Houston Rockets select a center with the 12th pich in the NBA Draft Thursday night in Newark.

Action sports' prospects in China

We're a little late to share this with you, but it's still relevant. Thoughtful China, a new weekly online show from branded content creator Thoughtful Media dedicated to analysis of Chinese business news and trends, recently did a piece on action sports. Coming on the heel of the Kia XGames Asia, held in Shanghai for the fifth time, the show looks at the growth of these sports here, through the eyes of some figures in China's sports business world. Appearing on the show are Harvey Davis, ESPN's vice president of event management; Chien Hwang, executive creative director at TBWA China; and Eric Lai, sports marketing manager, China at Converse. Perhaps the best observation on the show comes from Hwang, who notes that brands that help foster the growth of a sport in China will see a much bigger return than those that wait for a sport to catch on before investing in it.

To watch from inside China, here's the GFW-friendly link
To watch from outside China, here's the Youtube-friendly link

Tags: action sports, football, Kia XGames, NBA, soccer, Yao Ming

Men's national basketball team cruise to East Asia semis in Nanjing

Tuesday, 14th June 2011 ~ Maggie ~ Link ~ Comments (0)

Retired national team veteran Li Nan is on the bench for China at East Asian Championships
Retired national team veteran Li Nan is on the bench for China at East Asian Championships
China's men's basketball team has cruised into the semifinals at the East Asian Championships in Nanjing, with wins over Hong Kong and Korea. They face Japan tonight at 7:30 Beijing time.

China romped over Hong Kong 104-43, allowing only 16 points in the first half. Then they rode their height advantage and South Korea's foul trouble to a 61-54 win Sunday. Three-point shooting was dismal for both teams — China shot 3 for 16, and South Korea 1 for 18.

The tournament, in Nanjing, is a qualifier for the FIBA Asia Championship September 15 to 25 in Wuhan. As host, China qualifies automatically. The team has an unfamiliar look right now, with several national team regulars resting and three players on the roster serving out a FIBA suspension. Zhu Fangyu (three games), Sun Yue and Zhang Bo (one game each) all were issued suspensions by FIBA for their parts in a bench-clearing brawl in a game against a Brazilian team last fall. Wang Zhizhi, Yi Jianlian, Liu Wei, Wang Shipeng, Ding Jinhui and Zhang Qingpeng are all being rested, leaving some younger players with the chance to get some more international playing experience.

As pointed out by Jon Pastuszek at Niubball.com, the chance for its starts to serve their suspensions with no real consequence for the team might be the best thing about this tournament for Team China.

Li Nan image: Osports.cn via Sohu.com

Tags: basketball, FIBA, Li Nan, Nanjing, Sun Yue, Zhang Bo, Zhu Fangyu

Open System, Open Win: What Li Na means to Chinese sports

Sunday, 5th June 2011 ~ Maggie ~ Link ~ Comments (0)

Within minutes of Li Na's French Open victory yesterday, the first major title for a Chinese title player, journalists around the world speculated as to how much her success could spur the growth of Chinese tennis, and mused over whether she were eclipsing Yao Ming and Liu Xiang in popularity.

The title should be a boon for tennis in China, where it was already relatively popular and accessible. And it makes Li the most compelling currently active sportsperson in the country, especially after hurdler Liu Xiang came in second at the Prefontaine Classic and announced he won't compete in Europe before world championships late this summer. But the most important legacy of her win might be captured by the message printed on the 30 special-edition T-shirts Nike made for her camp to wear during the tournament: "Zaojiu zji," roughly translated as, "Create yourself." Li -- along with Zheng Jie, Yan Zi and Peng Shuai -- is part of an experiment in self-determination unprecedented in the Chinese sports world.

Less than three years ago, the Chinese Tennis Association announced its "Fly Alone" program, giving the players the option to leave the national team to train on their own, set their schedules, choose their coaches, control their commercial activities and keep 88% of their winnings, instead of turning over 65% to the federation. Li had two strong seasons and then made a run to the final of the Australian Open this year. She lost to Kim Clijsters, but took advantage of her stock to sign major new endorsements — Li represents Nike, Haagen-Dazs, Rolex and SpiderTech.

Li's victory at Roland Garros after just two seasons on her own validates the association's decision to extend these women so much independence. Some tennis writers have attributed her win in part to the fact that she changed coaches between the Australian Open and the French Open, demoting her husband and hiring Denmark's Michael Mortenson — not something she could have done three years ago.

In a post-match press conference, the Chinese Tennis Association chief deemed the reforms a success: "We took a lot of risks with this reform. When we let them fly, we didn't know if they would succeed. That they have now succeeded, means our reform was correct," said Sun Jinfang. "This reform will serve as a good example for reforms in other sports."

China's bureaucrats have demonstrated a fondness for the guinea pig approach to change. The country's transition to a market economy began with reforms isolated to cities designated as "special economic zones," before spreading to the rest of the country.

If similar changes are to come in other sports, it probably won't be until after the 2012 Olympics in London—sports administration leaders are unlikely to veer from the cautious course before then. And the CTA's reforms can't be simply copied by the sports China seems most concerned about— team sports, whose competition format and business model differ greatly from tennis. But China's much-maligned national men's football team, and the mediocre play in its national basketball league, might benefit from policies that encourage athletes to get playing experience outside of the country.

In the post-match ceremony, Li thanked her sponsors, tournament directors, ball boys, linesmen, chair umpires, her training team, fans and a friend—notably making no mention of her country or the Chinese Tennis Association. But why should she have to thank them? She wore red and yellow on the dais and sang along as the Chinese national anthem was played and the flag was raised. Do people expect Roger Federer to thank Switzerland whenever he wins a major? Or the Williams sisters to thank America?

Li Na is the vanguard of a new breed of Chinese athlete. She is creating herself, following her own path and hoping to squeeze as many wins as she can out of her career, but she is also creating a legacy will last long past her retirement, and extend beyond her own sport.

Li Na image: Xinhua

Tags: French Open, Li Na, tennis

Yao Ming gets in on Shanghai Auto Show hype

Wednesday, 20th April 2011 ~ Maggie ~ Link ~ Comments (0)

Yao Ming made a surprise appearance at the 14th Shanghai International Automobile Industry Exhibition yesterday, to shill BMW's new models. Pictures and a brief account of Yao's appearance can be found in this Detroit Free Press blog post by Chrissie Thompson. Thompson, a Free Press business reporter and apparently a frequent visitor to auto shows, has an interesting perspective on one difference between shows in China and elsewhere in the world—a strong preference for hoopla in the form of celebrities, dancing girls and pop music:

Western reporters often view too much hoopla or production during auto show reveals as distraction from good product. Just let us see the car, maybe after unveiling it in a short, dramatic fashion. Don't put a rock star in front of it. One set of dancers might be acceptable. More than one dance? We might start wondering whether the automaker is compensating for a lack of product.

Not in China. Here, automakers say, reporters and bystanders alike expect a show – and the bigger, the better."

Read the rest of Thompson's post and see her photos here.

Tags: cars, Shanghai, sports marketing, Yao Ming

China's golf boom on display in Beijing

Tuesday, 19th April 2011 ~ Maggie ~ Link ~ Comments (0)

Does China have enough golf? Judging from the scene at last month's China Golf Show, the game here is still in a growth phase. More than 30 companies involved in design and construction exhibited at the show, including Cashmore, Dye Design, Nicklaus Design, Greg Norman Design, Ernie Els Design, Robert Trent Jones II, IMG, Schmidt Curley and Rees Jones. The show, in its 10th year, attracted a high number of architects for one simple reason—this is where the projects are.

The official count of golf courses in China is 596, Wang Li-Wei, Deputy Director General of the China Golf Association, announced at the mid-March event at the China National Convention Center. The CGA projects that the country will have 1,000, along with 20 million golfers to play on them, by 2020.

It's hard to get a reliable count of the number of courses in the country without a strong community of local course developers or managers, and where new course construction occupies a strange extra-legal gray area. But my rough estimates based on talking to people in the industry indicate that the number of courses has grown 150 percent from the 300 to 400 estimate of three years ago. George Geng, national sales manager for Rainbird, one of the world's biggest suppliers of irrigation systems for golf courses, says his company has 100 projects in the country this year.

From modern China's first course more than 20 years ago in Guangdong province, the Chinese golf world now extends as far west as Xinjiang province and as far north as Heilongjiang. The hotspots, unsurprisingly, are still in the south—the Pearl River Delta, with its warm weather and proximity to Hong Kong; tropical Hainan Island; and Yunnan province, whose moderate climate and impressive landscape makes it an ideal home for golf resorts.

The rapid development of courses, unrivaled anywhere else in the world, should make a golf expo in China a hot property. That's the bet being made by Reed Exhibitions, the UK-based event management firm which purchased the China Golf Show three months ago through its Reed Exhibitions Greater China, and organized it via joint venture Reed Guanghe. Reed secured the partnership of the Professional Golf Association of America, which is extending its PGA Merchandise Show into Asia via the China Golf Show and the Asia Golf Show (scheduled for October 20-22 in Guangzhou).

"This is the best golf show we've ever had in China," said David Liu, chief China representative for Arnold Palmer Design Company. "Traffic is good, and the show is managed better." It was Liu's first time attending the China Golf Show for Arnold Palmer, but he says he has been active in the Chinese golf market for more than 10 years, originally as a sales representative for Club Car. His positive impression was echoed by everyone I spoke with, including RainBird's Geng. "This year is much better than last year," he said. "There are more people, and more of the architects from the US."

At least one exhibiting architect, Dye Designs, inked a new design contract at the show. The new project is a two-course job in Yunnan, where Dye already has projects in various phases of development. O'Brien McGarey, president of Dye Designs, says that shows like this offer designers and their clients a chance to shop around for some of the services and goods they need to subcontract or purchase.

"He walked the floor with our head designer, Cynthia Dye," McGarey said of the company's newest client. "He checked out the John Deere booth, ordered some materials, met a Korean architect he might use to design homes next to the course."

Not surpisingly, considering that golf courses are still inaccessible for so many Chinese citizens, simulators drew a lot of attention at the show. AboutGolf's booth was a hit...
Not surpisingly, considering that golf courses are still inaccessible for so many Chinese citizens, simulators drew a lot of attention at the show. AboutGolf's booth was a hit...

... and a long putt away was the booth of copycat AboutGolf, which claims a relationship that the American simulator supplier denies.
... and a long putt away was the booth of copycat AboutGolf, which claims a relationship that the American simulator supplier denies.

Tags: golf, trade shows

Tiger Woods, Liu Xiang together in Beijing

Thursday, 14th April 2011 ~ Maggie ~ Link ~ Comments (0)

Nike fraternity brothers Tiger Woods and Liu Xiang were in Beijing yesterday to "inspire youth", or more accurately promote Nike golf at Beijing Sports University. They make an interesting pair—Liu Xiang shattered stereotypes about Chinese and Asian track and field athletes, and Woods broke new ground for Cablinasians in golf. Both reached the pinnacle of their sports before suffering very public and sudden, if quite different, falls. And both are in the hunt for a comeback that will restore some of the shine to their images.

The Beijing visit was part of an Asia tour for Woods and Nike Golf, "Make it Matter," which included a stop at Shenzhen's Mission Hills and South Korea's Jade Palace Golf Club.

Woods was fresh off a third-place tie at The Masters last weekend, and Vegas oddsmakers have him the as favorite to win the US Open in June.

Liu Xiang's most recent accomplishment was his 13.09-second Asian games gold medal. Next month in Shanghai, he faces American David Oliver, who ran the fastest 100-meter hurdles time in the world last year, May 15 at the Samsung Diamond League Dunlop Shanghai Golden Grand Prix.

Tiger Woods/Liu Xiang image: Xinhua

Tags: athletics, golf, Liu Xiang, Tiger Woods


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