It’s been close to three years now, so hopefully people are finally over their 2008-lag enough to stomach Olympic sports again. More than three decades ago, China was still in the embryonic stages of amateur sport, the first realm of endeavor for a country with something to prove. In 1979, Ye Jianying, Chairman of the National People’s Congress, took it upon himself to pen Springtime for Sports in China.
In the Foreword, the good Chairman recalls that “sports stagnated under the decadent social system of old China.” He goes on to note that party-mandated sports participation has rid China “once and for all of the derogatory nickname of ‘sick man of East Asia’ imposed by the imperialists.” Presciently, he predicts that “with the rapid upswing of the national economy there are bound to be leaps forward in the field of sports.” Let’s take a look at China’s big four: table tennis, diving, volleyball, and gymnastics, back in China’s sporting springtime.
“Our national table tennis team was brought up under the personal care of the late Chairman Mao Zeddong, Premier Zhou Enlai and Vice-Premiers Chen Yi and He Long, who received the players on many occasions and frequently gave instructions concerning their training and competition.”
Li Furong, left, known for fast attacks, led the men’s team in winning titles at the 27th and 28th World Table Tennis Championships. His teammate Zhang Xielin was known as the “Chopping Player”, with a spin fiercer than Fox News’.
That’s not a rhythmic dance event; that’s Zheng Migzhi helping capture the women’s team title at the 28th World Table Tennis Championships. Equally graceful with a paddle is her doubles partner Lin Huiqing. They took the doubles title at the 31st Championships.
Finished with the Nixon preliminaries, Zhou Enlai hosts the U.S. table tennis delegation in 1972. Here, he snaps his fingers for more tea to wet the whistles of ping pong diplomats from not just America but also Canada, Colombia, England, and Nigeria.
“In September 1978 many newcomers came forth with highly difficult movements, which indicates that Chinese divers are hopeful of climbing a new high.”
China’s first three diving champions, who brought home medals at the Seventh Asian Games (from left): Li Kongzheng – 10m platform; Zhong Shaozhen – 10m platform and 3m springboard; Xie Caiming – 3m springboard.
“Generally speaking, the style in the south is characterized by speed and variation whereas that in the north by height and power. The different styles have all contributed to the development of the game.”
“With their highly difficult and graceful movements, the gymnasts produced unique exercises of their own. Fourteen-year-old Ma Yanhong earned 9.95 points at the Shanghai Invitational for her exquisite performances on the uneven bars.”
Cai Huanzong lets his monster biceps do the work as he bangs out a straddle “L” support. He won the all-around, horizontal bar and parallel bars at the Shanghai Invitational. Sadly, he never became interested in the manufacture of athletic footwear.
Recognize the intense Romanian mug, second from left? That’s Nadia Comaneci, marching towards socialist sporting glory with Liu Yajun, Ning Xiaolin, and teammate Anca Grigoras.