Were China’s Winter Olympics a success?

Were China’s Winter Olympics a success?

China might have walked away with 11 medals, but the question remains, do Chinese people care?
Vancouver Winter Olympics, curling
China's Qingshuang Yue releases the stone during the women's bronze medal curling game between China and Switzerland, giving China one of its 11 medals from the winter games.

Two weeks later, it’s finally over. No, not the endless Chinese New Year’s fireworks -- the Winter Olympics. The final Vancouver Winter Olympic medal counts are in, the torch has been passed, and the Vancouver Games have officially come to a close.

China finished eighth in the final medal count with 11 medals, matching their output from four years ago and upping their gold tally from two to five. They couldn’t match the record-breaking Americans, with their 37 medals, or the host Canadians, with their 14 golds, but they did put themselves in league with the formerly dominant Russians, who finished sixth with 15 medals (but only three golds). All in all, it was a pretty good showing. But did anyone notice?

The curling bronze was a disappointment. Silly as it may seem, China really wanted that team sport gold. — Maggie Rauch, blogger, China Sports Today

Fair weather fans

Not around here, according to Robin Yao, a 25 year-old entrepreneur from just outside Shanghai. “I can only speak for Shanghai, but I think most people just don’t care. In the north of China, for example, I know curling is very popular. But in general, we’re just not really strong in the Winter Olympics. Stuff like speed skating and hockey, people are not really interested in them. It just feels too far away.”

He does concede, however, that figure skating is an exception. Three Chinese pairs finished in the top five, including silver medalists Tong Jian and Pang Qing, but the stars of the show were Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo, married partners and former world champs who came out of retirement last year to take one last shot at Olympic gold. They came through early with a world record-setting performance, breaking Russia’s 50-year stranglehold on the event to give China its first medals of the Games.

“They’re typical, good-looking athletes, so people love them,” says Yao. “They’re really beautiful and their sport is really beautiful -- they match our traditional Chinese values. Something like hockey is just too ‘tough’ for us.”

Go gold or go home

However, there were letdowns in other events. Besides the paired figure skaters, only one of China’s other nine medals went to a man (one single, lonely bronze). None of the male competitors managed to get on the podium in speed skating despite the country’s standing as one of the four world powers in the sport, and the women had to help the team save face with four golds.

It was a similar story on the mountain. China went into the Games with the four top-ranked female aerial skiers and five of the top seven male skiers, but the ski team produced only one silver and two bronzes. Liu Jiayu, the 17 year-old defending world champion in women’s snowboarding half-pipe, finished just out of the medals in fourth place.

But in the end, Maggie Rauch, the Beijing-based blogger who runs China Sports Today, feels that the Chinese team as a whole were able to meet expectations. “I think the climax for China was the figure skating pairs,” she says. “The curling bronze was a disappointment. Silly as it may seem, China really wanted that team sport gold. And I think there were some disappointments in skiing aerials and men’s speed skating, but the overall success certainly hasn’t been a total surprise.”