Greatest Stories at the Games Are Etched in Gold of Chinese Characters
Lawton, James, The Independent (London, England)
British glory has been so relentless in these 29th Olympics, and that of Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps so spectacular, it has been easy to forget that the most remarkable story of all has been written in Chinese characters.
It has been the long march of the biggest, most carefully vetted army in the history of organised sport and the extent of the pressure applied to those selected will probably never be accurately measured.
Some have been as programmed and unblinking as Chairman Mao's Red Guards, some have cracked as though the weight of their vast nation had been directed entirely on to their shoulders - and others, the smallest of minorities, it has appeared, have been as defiantly balanced as Tian Jia, a 27-year-old beach volleyball player who here yesterday refused to hang her head in shame despite the fact that she had won merely a silver medal. Her stance, in its way, was as startling as if a member of the Terracotta army had suddenly come to life.
Apparently unmindful that her compatriot Zhu Qinan, the defending Olympic champion in the 10-metre air rifle shooting category had rushed away in tears at the dawn of the Games after failing to hold her nerve, and that another reigning champion, the superstar hurdler Liu Xiang hid his head when injury cut him down in the heats, Tian Jia declared that whoever you are, and however immense the sporting programme in which you are a small and eminently dispensable cog, you can only give everything you have.
This, she also pointed out, is especially true when you have just gone down to the best players in the world, the American champions Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor, who were winning their 108th consecutive match.
Tian Jia might have added that her conquerors Kerri and Misty were not picked out for training in a strange game from a culture which might have been devised on another planet. They grew up playing in the sand.
Such is the pressure around every Chinese competitor in these Games that the strong-minded Tian Jia might well have made her statement without the provocation which came when all the fans were packed into the buses and driven away.
She and her team-mate Wang Jie had, after all, slaved to reward some of the most intense support received by any of the army of "patriot" competitors who have met, give or take a few heart-broken casualties, the government edict that they must finish at the top of the medals table, and thus beat America, for the first time in their Olympic history.
Each American point yesterday provoked groans from the fans who sat in the steady downpour with their little red flags poised even as the rain ran down their noses. Each Chinese riposte, in the 21- 18, 21-18 defeat, brought howls of delight. It was part sport, part political rally - and then there was the question that brought the glint of defiance to Tian Jia's eyes.
She was asked by a Chinese journalist why the passion had left her play when another gold beckoned for the people's athletic army. In preliminary games she had been the noisy, scrappy one, yelling at the sky and urging on the taller Wang Jie at critical moments.
"No," she said. "It was not like that. I didn't lose my motivation today - quite the opposite. I knew I had done all I could and that I could win if I played better than I have ever done before.
"In the early games I wasn't so sure about myself or our chances of progressing, and when you are not so certain of what you can do, you do shout more. Maybe you are trying to convince yourself.
"But today I felt very calm and I knew that there was only one thing I could do. It was to play the best I could and I can assure you that was what I did. …