China’s Olympic gold rush sparks wave of patriotism

China has been swept by a wave of patriotism sparked by the country's success at the London Olympics — and headline-grabbing scandals have not dampened the mood.

From table tennis and shooting to diving and swimming, the gold medals have poured in, and hundreds of millions of Chinese have been glued to the wall-to-wall coverage of the Games on state TV.

Meanwhile the controversies that have hit the country's campaign — unsubstantiated claims of doping in the pool and a badminton match-throwing furor — have largely been met with anger or defensiveness.

"With each gold medal that China wins, I feel my heart leap," said saleswoman Huang Weiwei as she ate lunch in a Beijing fast-food restaurant, her eyes fixed on a wall-mounted TV showing the Games.

China is second in the medals table — behind the United States — with 20 golds, 13 silvers and nine bronzes, and there are plenty more opportunities with a week of the Games still to go.

After she leaves her shop in the fashionable district of Sanlitun, Huang, 26, eats dinner then sits down to watch the Olympics until midnight.

She can only see a few live events because of the time difference, but that has not stopped state television showing Olympics programs almost constantly.

State-run TV's CCTV-5 has even been transformed into the official Olympic channel, broadcasting patriotic reports in which the red national flag with its five stars makes constant appearances.

The country's 2012 Olympics heroes so far include table tennis player Zhang Jike, swimmers Sun Yang and Ye Shiwen, diver Wu Minxia and Yi Siling, who won in the 10m air rifle competition.

"The Chinese are excelling in many disciplines," said Sun Yue, a young woman who lives in the capital. "The success in organizing the 2008 Beijing Games has given the athletes confidence."

With almost perfect organization and a colossal budget, China's first hosting of an Olympics four years ago provided the Asian giant with an opportunity to flex its muscles in spectacular fashion on the world stage.

The vast majority of Chinese that AFP talked to seemed convinced that London's effort would not match Beijing's, and the Games are being scrutinized for any missteps.

Estate agent employee Wang Hou was annoyed that the Chinese flag appeared to be hung below the South Korean flag, and not at the same level, as medals were given out Monday for the men's 200m freestyle.

China's Sun Yang and South Korea's Park Tae-Hwan finished tied second.

While such incidents may seem like footnotes in the story of this year's Olympics, they have been reported in minute detail by China's state-run media.

For a country that has always put huge emphasis on Olympic success to project itself as a leading world power, it is unsurprising that any setbacks to its carefully planned campaign are extremely sensitive.

Unsubstantiated allegations of doping levelled at swimmer Ye Shiwen, 16, who won gold in the women's 400m individual medley in a world-record time, sparked public outrage.

"The truth is that Westerners can't accept the fact that the Chinese swimming team has improved enormously," said Wang Hou, adding his voice to those of thousands of web users who have denounced what they see as the West's arrogance.

And while there was some shame after badminton star Yu Yang retired from the sport after being disqualified for throwing a match, many chose to blame the system instead of the player.

On Thursday, the show "Dialogue" on the CCTV news channel focused on the refusal of the BBC to apologize after one of its renowned journalists questioned swimmer Ye's performance live on air.

Presenter Yang Rui also described as "disturbing" an article in British newspaper the Daily Mail headlined "Torture or training?" which focused on the harsh conditions at a gym in the southern city of Nanning.

According to the tabloid, children begin training in the gym from the age of five to give them years to prepare for major competitions.

"Without such a Chinese way of training its own athletes, China probably would be… like India in terms of the medal count," said analyst Gao Zhikai on the show.

India, with a population of 1.2 billion, had a meager haul of one gold and two bronzes in Beijing, and are currently languishing in the medals table at the London Games with one silver and one bronze.

"The rest of the world should try to see what China has done to really make such big progress, rather than focusing on the negative aspects," added Gao.

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