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Different measures of success in race for gold

China, U.S. both likely to claim victory
By Alan Paul
Posted Saturday, August 16, 2008 3:27 AM ET

China and the United States both consider themselves to be leading the medal count and it's likely to stay that way.

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The U.S., virtually alone among nations, counts total medals won, while China, like the rest of the world focuses on golds. So for now, both can declare victory.

On Saturday, August 16, China led in gold medals 27-15, while the U.S. was ahead in tota medals, 48-41. In Athens, China finished with 32 golds  -- second to the U.S.' 36 - and 63 total medals - third to the U.S. 102 and Russia's 92.

"I think China will win the golds and the US will win the overall medal count and it will be a nice compromise, leaving everyone feeling good about the Olympics and both nations able to say they won," says Terry Rhoads, of Zou Marketing, a Shanghai-based sports consultancy.

Leading up to the Games a lot of attention was paid to Project 119, an initiative by Chinese sports leaders to boost the medal count, with a clear goal of finishing atop the Beijing Games.  There were 119 gold medals given out in the 2000 Games in the sports of track and field, swimming, rowing, sailing and canoe/kayak in Sydney. China won one of them. There is a long way to go in these events at these Games and so far they have had little impact on China's success.

Most of China's gold medals have been in events in which they have long been strong, including weightlifting, where China won four men's and four women's golds.

"Project 119 was not as important as people thought it would be, though rowing is one sport to keep an eye on now and a place where they might sneak up on some golds," says Susan Brownell, an American professor at Beijing Sport University's Olympic Studies Centre and the author of Beijing's Games: What the Olympics Mean to China. "Thus far, they are winning in sports they've been giving a lot of attention to for years."

The Chinese public is closely following the medal count and doing so with an intensity and emotional involvement that many in the West might find hard to fathom.

"There is an idea out there that winning the gold medal count will erase the 'sick man of East Asia' tag that China was stuck with decades ago," says Brownell. "They are saddled with this racist stereotype about being shorter and weaker, which was imposed upon them long ago by people en the West and these Games are viewed as chance to shed that forever and show the world they are a strong nation.

"Part of what they're trying to do through is convince themselves that this image is in the past and in that sense watching tall, strong Chinese men and women win medals makes them all feel tall and strong."

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