Monday, August 11, 2008 Updated: August 12, 11:43 AM ET
REPORTING FROM ... THE BEIJING BUREAU
Du Li took her 5th-place finish in the air-rifle competition almost as hard as when she lost out on the female lead in Tron
The Olympics weren't a day old when a shocking murder-suicide took some of the glitter off the previous night's Opening Ceremonies. The fatal stabbing of American Todd Bachman is a sober reminder that sometimes even all the preparation in the world can't pave over the cracks in human nature.
The Games, however, are set up to be a foil against the ugliness of reality. The Olympics celebrate the distinctly human, from triumph to defeat and everything in between, and the first weekend had plenty of it all as The Games went on. Michael Phelps's exultant yell may have taken center stage, but plenty of tears have already been shed in Beijing. Especially by heavily favored Chinese athletes who fell short.
It started with Du Li, defending gold-medalist in the 10-meter air rifle. She had the chance to win China's first gold of these Games when she competed on Saturday morning. Instead, she finished fifth and could hardly express herself afterwards. Even the winner, Czech Republic's Katerina Emmons, was sympathetic:
"As far as I can see, there was too much pressure on her," she said. (Emmons's approach to the competition was quite different.)
Weightlifter Chen Xiexia won China's first gold soon after.
On the men's side of the 10-meter air rifle competition, another Chinese favorite, Zhu Qinan, also fell short. He finished second but still wept in disappointment.
"I was under tremendous pressure and at times I felt really agitated," Zhu said. "But I tried my best."
Then there's the world's No. 1 women's doubles badminton team of Yang Wei and Zhang Jiewen, who lost to a Japanese team in the quarterfinals. They initially took their loss well, saying all the right things, but then they were asked to express their feelings for one another. The pair had been together for six years, and both knew Beijing 2008 could have been their swan song as a team. As Yang was praising her teammate, Zhang broke down. Soon, both of them were sobbing.
But for all the tears, China has its fair share uplifting stories, like that of Xian Dongmei, who won China's first judo gold in Athens, retired, had a child, then came back to capture Olympic gold on Sunday. But the pressure on Chinese athletes to perform on their home turf will be a storyline revisited many times before these Games end. The emotions entwined with these contests are, after all, only too human.
From China Digital Times, three links to the Bachman stabbing, plus an AP video report. Meanwhile, more violence has hit Xinjiang, a Muslim-heavy province in western China.
Team China's coaches aren't allowed to talk to the foreign press, but the gag order didn't stop baseball coach Jim Lefebvrefrom sitting down with Seattle Times columnist Steve Kelley: "We have a guy who played in the CBA [Chinese Baseball Association], quit the game and worked in the restaurant business for eight years. Now he's our best pitcher. That's a story that should be told."
Sports for fun? That's the radical idea proposed by former China national team goalie Gao Hong.
The day after an Iranian athlete pulled out of a swim event to avoid competing against an Israeli, another shows the Olympics can be used to bridge differences. ESPN's Chris Sheridan reports on the hug between an Iranian basketball player and an Israeli coach.
With Twittering all the rage these days, here's an interesting way to follow the Olympics: Slate's tweets.
MEDAL UPDATE: As of the end of Monday: China, 14 total (9 gold); U.S.A., 12 (3); South Korea, 8 (4); and Italy, 8 (3).
For more of the Beijing Bureau, check out the archive.