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Olympic Games Countdown: The Dragon stirs

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Chris Kempson on the growing might of China in the Olympic Games

GIVEN that China, or to give its proper title The Peoples Republic of China (PRC for short), is the most populous country in the world with around 1.4 billion inhabitants, one could muse that it might, perhaps should, have a better record of medal achievement in amateur boxing at the Olympics.

That said, boxing is not at the real forefront of PRC, a country which plays and supports many kinds of sport, with basketball remaining the country’s main attraction for its sporting spectators.

A curious background to sport existed when Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution got underway when competitive sports were banned and it was not until the 1980s that amateur boxing began to emerge as a valued and prestigious sport which could help advance the country’s communist philosophy challenging the free market practices in the West. Success including sporting success is a fine tool to advance communist philosophy and it mirrors much of what happened in the former Soviet Union and their east European satellite states, first in the days of the Cold War and it lasted until the yoke of communism was removed from the old Soviet Union and its puppet satellite domains a good few years later.

PRC entered two boxers in the 1988 Games, Weiping Wang at flyweight and Dong Liu at featherweight, although neither of them cut the mustard in Seoul, in South Korea and no medals were achieved. However PRC were at last on the Olympic boxing map and things could only get better; and they eventually did!

Four boxers went to Barcelona, three to Atlanta  in 1996 and another three to Sydney in 2000, without any medal reward.

The first medal, a bronze, was obtained in Athens in 2004 by Zou Shiming at light-flyweight and what an outstanding boxer he eventually proved to be. The other five boxers returned home empty handed.

As is often the case with host countries they rise to the occasion and the PRC certainly did in Beijing in 2008, landing two golds, a silver and a bronze – from their ten participants- their largest medal haul to date at any Games and they topped the overall boxing medal table on this occasion Their heroes were: the phenomenal Zou Shiming who won the host country’s first ever gold medal at light-flyweight; Zhang Xiaoping won their second, up at light-heavyweight defeating Ireland’s Kenneth Egan in the final. Super-heavyweight Zhang Zhilei claimed silver, while Hanati Silamu achieved bronze at welterweight. Zhilei was, of course, outpointed in London 2012 by our own gold medallist, Anthony Joshua, the former returning home without a medal on this occasion 10 boxers at the Beijing Games was the highest total to date of Chinese entrants.

London 2012 proved to be a somewhat quiet Games for the PRC, one gold and one silver and a bronze being the medal tally for the most populous country in the world; the heady days of Beijing, decidedly not being repeated.

The incredibly talented Zou Shiming retained his Olympic light-flyweight title, thus joining a select band of dual gold medallists, not forgetting his “warm up” bronze in 2004. To win back to back golds in any era is an outstanding achievement and without doubt, so far, Zou is the PRC’s greatest ever amateur boxer. Women accounted for the other two medallists. At flyweight Ren Cancan took silver losing in the final to our own Nicola Adams who became the first ever women’s Olympic gold medallist. At middleweight, Li Jinzi weighed in with a bronze to complete the PRC’s medal tally.

So, what will Rio 2016 bring, further success perhaps or medal stalemate? We shall see. The Chinese journey is still very much ongoing, one expects it will continue to flourish for some time to come. The Dragon has finally woken from its slumbers

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