Monday, June 30, 2008 Updated: August 5, 4:29 PM ET
REPORTING FROM ... THE BEIJING BUREAU
He runs more in a week than you've run in the last year.
Only 38 more days until opening ceremonies!
Recently we went to Beijing Sports University to visit with marathoner Han Gang, who ran in Athens in 2004 and is one of four finalists competing for three spots on the Chinese team this summer (a decision is expected early next month). Modesty prevents him from talking about his chances—"50 percent, maybe," he says, "though that may be overestimating"—but after posting the second-best time earlier this year, we'll put our money on him.
In our chat Han explained, among other things, why he's not worried about Beijing's air, athletic training in China and why he likes the Phoenix Suns. In his words (translated):
On running: "I was discovered by a track coach after participating in a youth sports tournament in elementary school. In middle school I joined the team and have been running since. Professional for 15 years. [Among the 1,500-meter, 5,000-meter and marathon,] I most enjoy the marathon. It tests your mental strength every time. It's a challenge."
On his training and recentreports of Chinese athletes getting pushed too hard: "I run about 200 km (124 miles) per week. I feel that in China, the training level is not too high—compared to, say, Japan or Korea, anyway. I prefer the non-Chinese way of training, however. Outside the country, in Europe or America, athletes typically use their own funds to hire coaches and set their own schedule. If you're spending your own money, it means you're more independent, and also your desire to compete is higher. It's not like in China, where the pressure comes from the top to force you to practice—you train if they tell you to train, rest if they tell you to rest. This system lags behind. If China's training evolves, I suspect the results will improve very quickly."
On this summer's Olympics: "I haven't thought much about it. China has a lot of responsibility though. The pressure (the organizers) feel is much greater than ours. But come Olympics time, I believe Beijing will hold the most successful Games ever."
On his hobbies: "I enjoy cooking. I only know one dish, but as long as I can eat that well, I'm good. Also, surfing the 'Net, watching TV. Mostly I watch sports because there's no time for much else. NBA, soccer. But not Chinese soccer, mind you. My favorite NBA team is the Suns because when they play it's smooth and lively. Also because of [Steve] Nash. Yao Ming I also like."
On Beijing's air quality: "China's already started taking care of it. Come time, they'll do more. If you look at it now you may not be able to see any effect, but a lot of things—including cars, factories—are going to come to a halt. The odd/even license plates, etc., that'll have an effect. Beijing's air, it's not bad. Better than Neimong (where I'm from), for sure. if you want to see bad air, go there."
MORE GAMES GOSSIP
Top swimmer Ouyang Kunpeng recently tested positive for banned substances, and the Chinese Olympic Committee decided to make an example of her with a lifetime ban.
He's called the Olympic madman for a reason: Sun Dingguo, 30, quit his job and "dropped the chance to get a girlfriend" last year to devote his life and body to the Olympics. Literally. He recently got his 36th Olympic tattoo. And if you think he's the only Olympic madman in China, read this.
"Mutant seaweed" that's "thick as a carpet" has infested Qingdao, the site of Olympic sailing, which could make for some interesting racing tactics. (Through or around the algal infestation, Cap'n?) The city, for its part, has mobilized 10,000 labor forces and more than a thousand vessels to clean up the water, according to Xinhua, and organizers are hoping to eliminate all seaweed within two weeks.
The must-see Olympic video of the summer: Dream Weavers 2008, a documentary about the Beijing Games. It took director Gu Jun seven years to make, starting shortly after China was awarded the Olympics. Among other athletes, the film follows the steps of a young Liu Xiang on his path to a gold medal in the 110-meter hurdles and superstardom.
Torch relay update: Just passed: Wuzhong, Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, which has the largest number of Hui people, a Muslim ethnic group. Next up: the ancient city of Yinchuan, nicknamed the "Phoenix City" because, according to legend, a phoenix blessed the region with abundance and turned into a city wall to protect the people from enemy attacks, then nourished the land with its blood.