Liberally speaking (Aug.14 2008)

Aug. 14, 2008

Given a topic as broad as “China,” it is tempting to go off on tangents far and wide.

In one direction, history: China’s written history goes back further than any nation, back to the 15th century B.C. Its Ming and Qing dynasties top those of any English royal house — the Windsors have reigned only since 1910; the Ming ruled for 276 years, the Qing for 267.

In another direction, Sino-American relations: China is the second largest holder of American debt, after Japan (a debt to which, over the last five years, we added nearly $3 trillion). We import more goods from China than any other nation, and we have a massive trade deficit with China (a trade deficit that we share with Japan and the European Union).

But Olympic events in China in the past week permit me to put history and politics aside, and focus on a topic that I don’t often feel the urge to write about — sports.

Like many Americans, I only care about judo, fencing, shooting, kayaking or water polo when there are Olympic gold medals at stake. And with the Games come the stories, compelling Olympic stories.

I wasn’t even going to bother watching the opening ceremonies or the mind-numbing parade of nations until I read about the athlete chosen by the U.S. delegation to be our flag-bearer. The story of Tully, N.Y., middle-distance runner Lopez Lomong is well-known by now, but worth repeating.

Lomong was living in Sudan when he was abducted from his family at the age of 6, taken to become a child soldier in the Sudanese civil war. He and some other boys were able to escape to Kenya and for a decade, Lomong languished in refugee camps. He was finally chosen to be resettled in the United States, one of the “Lost Boys” of Sudan.

Lomong assumed his family had been killed during the civil war and, following his abduction, his family assumed he was dead and buried him in absentia. Though he was later reunited with his Sudanese family, Lomong decided to stay in the United States with his adoptive family, and became a citizen just last year.

Lomong’s story inspired his fellow athletes just as it inspires many of us, and their choice of Lomong to lead them into the Bird’s Nest Stadium was seen as both a dig at the Chinese for their role in the turmoil in Sudan’s Darfur region, and a recognition of the obstacles he had to overcome to reach the games.

Here is a sampling of the other stories to emerge from Beijing from just the first five days of competition:

  American women swept the medals in the sabre competition, the first time Americans have swept a fencing competition since 1904. President George Bush was on hand to watch as three American flags rose over the medal podium on day one.

  A quartet of American men came from behind to defeat the favored French team in the 4×100-meter free relay swim, a win that got Michael Phelps another gold medal in his quest to be the first to win eight in a single Olympic games.

  In the women's version of the same event, the 4×100 free relay, 41-year-old Dara Torres won her 10th Olympic medal, in her fifth Olympics, when she helped the American women to a silver medal.

  In oft-overlooked mens gymnastics, our team overcame the loss of Paul and Morgan Hamm to injury and pulled ahead to finish with a bronze medal, with Alexander Artemev's performance on pommel horse sealing the deal.

  In baseball, a sport that Williston Little League champions should watch carefully since this will be its last appearance at the Olympics for a while, the U.S. team is one of only eight; if history is a guide, the Cubans have a better chance at gold than the Americans, but in exhibition play, the United States won a respectable five out of six. After failing to reach the medal round in Athens in 2004, the Americans have something to prove.

Whether you’re a sports fan or not, tune in to see what your athletes, and those of the rest of the world, have to offer in the coming week. No doubt you won’t be disappointed.

Steve Mount has been a Williston resident since 1996. He is a software engineer at GE Healthcare and is devoted to his family, his country and his Constitution. You can reach Steve at steve@saltyrain.com or read his blog at http://saltyrain.com/ls.