China is claiming conspiracy Country's official line has its athletes being cheated out of gold

Atlanta Olympics

August 01, 1996|By Ian Johnson | Ian Johnson,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

BEIJING -- By the time the Atlanta Olympics end Sunday, China probably will have achieved its goal of winning 15 gold medals. But many people here strongly believe the country's athletes would have won many more if the world had not plotted against them.

China's gripes go beyond the lack of Chinese food in the Olympic Village and Atlanta's well-documented organizational mishaps: According to official reports and many ordinary people, a worldwide conspiracy is afoot to deny China gold medals.

"Umpires help host win softball Olympic gold," charged the government's official mouthpiece, the New China News Agency, in a report yesterday on the U.S. women's third and final softball victory over China.

A day earlier, there were complaints when Greek gymnast Ioannis Melissanidis narrowly beat Chinese favorite Li Xiaoshuang for the gold in the men's individual floor exercise. "Olympic spirit or Olympic deal?" asked a newscaster on the state-controlled television news.

Other complaints allege that U.S. swimmers knew when the starting gun was going to fire, giving them head starts, and that judges discriminated against Chinese in diving events.

NBC -- dubbed the Brainless Broadcasting Corp. by one Chinese newspaper -- came under fire for allegedly using camera angles during a volleyball match won by China that made the Americans seem taller than the Chinese.

The feeling that the Olympics pit China against the world goes deeper than the commentaries of government propagandists.

"I do think that the judges are tough on Chinese athletes," said Zhang Weijun, a 32-year-old Beijing secretary. "No one wants to see China win too much."

That feeling lies at the heart of China's experiences in Atlanta -- and during the past few years in the international arena. For all the talk of China being welcomed into the world community after decades of isolation, many educated Chinese believe that the world is actually afraid of what will happen when a nation of 1.2 billion people becomes strong and prosperous, via military or sports.

Tuesday night's softball game epitomized the outrage that has been building during the 10 days of competition, especially because it came against its international archrival, the United States.

From the beginning, Chinese commentators smelled a rat, noting that the Chinese team had to compete for the gold just a couple of hours after playing their semifinal game against Australia. The U.S. team had a day's rest.

During the game, a Chinese runner appeared to beat a tag at home but was called out. Later, in a scene that was repeated on television throughout the day yesterday, the U.S. team scored the winning runs on a two-run homer that China claimed was a foul ball.

"Umpires played the most role in the softball final here Tuesday evening when the United States stole the gold medal," the New China News Agency reported.

"After two scoreless innings, a woman umpire with helmet stole the limelight by ruling fair a clear outside hit by American Dot Richardson."

Earlier in the week, the government-run media reported as fact allegations that gymnast Li lost to his Greek opponent only because of some unidentified scheme.

"The spirit of the Olympics is the spirit of fairness, but China's valiant athletes were treated very unfairly one after the other," said the Beijing Youth Daily.

"Li Xiaoshuang performed perfectly and the audience applauded, but judges didn't give him the scores he deserved, so he got second place."

The paper reported that judges agreed beforehand to "make contributions to certain geographical areas" -- presumably Western countries. The popular newspaper said the judges had "murdered" the Olympic spirit.

"This unfairness regarding China's valiant athletes extends beyond the competition," added the Beijing Youth Daily. "As has been learned, when China's gymnastic team was to have its last training before the performance, the organizers didn't send a car on time, so the warm-up was delayed."

China has won 14 gold medals and seems likely to match or better its performance at the 1992 Games in Barcelona, Spain, when it won 16 golds. After a new, tough anti-doping program and a simultaneous decline in victories by its women's swimmers, officials had said beforehand that 15 or 16 golds would be good in Atlanta.

The recent outburst of bitterness may have come after sports officials felt they were within reach of 20 golds, which would have caused a national sensation.

"But China's Olympic team manifested its resolve not to give in to these difficulties and will compete," the Beijing newspaper concluded. "Its good spiritual appearance will prove its true state" to the world.

Pub Date: 8/01/96

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