China’s success in Olympics spreads beyond medals

The closing ceremony in Beijing on Sunday marked the official end of the Olympic Games, but the legacy of the games will follow China for some time, manifested in the twisting steel of the Bird’s Nest and, more importantly, the new global perception of the country.

My own perception of China has certainly changed. I knew China was an emerging economic powerhouse, but bicycles, rice paddies and little white stickers on cheap plastic toys were the first images that came to mind prior to the Olympic Games. Now, those pictures will be replaced by the Bird’s Nest.

Several years ago, I watched the series “Firefly,” an entertaining futuristic television series where China replaced the U.S. as the dominating world power. Signs and billboards are written in Chinese, and main characters would often break out into snippets of Chinese. At the time, the idea of China as the world’s superpower indeed seemed futuristic. Now, I’m thinking it wouldn’t be a bad idea to start learning Chinese myself.

It’s nice to think of the Olympics as two weeks of sports, but the Olympics are also a reflection of our world. Before the Games even began, Andrew Bernard, a professor at Dartmouth College, correctly predicted that China would lead the gold medal count, and the U.S. would come away with the most medals overall. He did it without any knowledge of the athletes, and looked at economic factors such as population size and gross national product.

If population size and income are indicators of the gold medal count, what other predictions might we make about the future of our country and our relationship with China? Does the fact that China crushed us in the gold medal count tell us something more about our respective countries?

Perhaps it means China is more willing to do what it takes to go that extra mile and achieve success as a nation. After all, China removes young children from their homes and sends the promising youngsters to live in athlete training camps. The country presumably takes economic success just as seriously as athletic success. Or perhaps the medal count is simply the outcome of a few sports, and nothing more should be read into the matter.

Either way, the Olympic Games have been a success for China on a more cosmic scale. China went to extraordinary lengths to make sure everything was picture perfect by scraping green algae off of the surface of lakes, closing down major factories to curb pollution and even replacing a cuter girl to lip sync to the voice of another who was deemed too unsightly to represent China in the opening ceremonies. Even as a citizen of a country not unfamiliar with lip syncing and relentless emphasis on appearances, I found the posturing of China a little over the top.

Even so, such measures contributed to overall success of the Games. I feel quite sorry for London in 2012 if its intention is to top the party China just threw. If the goal of China was to use the Olympics to heighten the global perception of the country, China was successful with more than just gold medals.

Sarai Brinker is a graduate student from Levelland.