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Thursday, Aug. 14, 2008


Similarities and differences

BEIJING — It's impossible to keep up with everything happening at once during the Olympics.

When a writer has a few spare minutes to scan the headlines and see what's being reported, it's time well spent.

Today's example: I enjoyed reading about Chinese gymnast Li Xiaopeng and his mother, Pan Jianguo, who were the subject of a tear-jerking short story in The Olympian, China Daily's special section.

Pan watched Li earn his 15th gold medal in international competitions on Tuesday as he helped China secure the men's artistic gymnastics title with a fabulous all-around performance. The night before, however, Pan had trouble sleeping. She woke up at 4 a.m. and, you can bet, counted down the minutes until the competition began.

Hours later, Pan was as alert as a bumblebee when she made these remarks: "It makes my heart ache to see his arm bleeding after finishing his parallel routine."

Millions of moms around the world would have said something similar. And that's one of the beauties of the Olympics. We are reminded about what we have in common.

We are also reminded of our differences, or the difference that are on display here in Beijing.

I spoke with a Polish swimming coach late Tuesday night/early Wednesday morning. He coaches young pupils ages 7 through 12, and he hopes to someday be involved in the sport at the highest level. He talked about the lack of funding for athletes in his homeland, the lack of organized planning at the national level and the lack of big-time competitions. His frustration was revealed word after word, sentence after sentence.

Compare Poland's situation with, say, the United States and China, where athletic federations' budgets are on par with the gross national product of many small countries.

No one said it's a level playing field.

I'll wrap up today's dispatch by saying I have a new favorite boxer: Brad Pitt of Australia. He may not have starred in "Fight Club," a fine movie, but he is gearing up for the hard-nosed competition at the Beijing Workers Gymnasium.

"Mate, I've been living with that other bloke's name for years, it doesn't worry me at all," the boxer told reporters at Ditan Gymnasium during a recent workout.

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