The medal tally at the Beijing Olympics read:
Of the 35 disciplines at the Olympics, China won Gold in 17, Gymnastics and Weightlifting with 9 and 8 Golds and the remaining 34 spread over 15 other disciplines. The US, by comparison, won Gold medals in 15 disciplines with Athletics (7) and Swimming (12) dominating the medal haul.
A look at the various sports where China won Gold is a pointer towards how single minded China was on taking as many Gold medals as it could - as varied as Archery, Badminton, Boxing, Canoe, Diving, Fencing, Trampoline, Judo, Rowing, Sailing, Shooting, Swimming, Table Tennis, Taekwondo, Wrestling. While there were attempts to start winning in Athletics, etc. it was a strategy to put China on top of the medal tally. And they sure made it to the top. It was a victory for 1.3 billion people who willingly or unwillingly, pursued the Olympic dream for 7 years.
The rise of China at the Olympics over the last 2-3 decades has coincided with its rise as a world power and the spread of its medal haul mirrors its growing influence across the world – from Asia to Africa to South America and the US, in technology, military, economy and culture.
Sure there is poverty, suppression of freedom and all that, and the images at the Olympics were made for TV but you can’t hide everything, not with a population of 1.3 billion. The people of China seem to value national pride more than freedom and democracy, and don’t seem too bothered about it – you can’t lose what you don’t have.
One can imagine what would have happened in India where every Tom, Dick and Harry would have come out in protest of something or the other - Arundhati Roy furthering some agenda of hers, some political party trying to get free TV, TV pundits commenting about how India should not do this in the midst of its many social problems and poverty, how the money could have been spent elsewhere, sports commentators crying hoarse about how other sports are finally getting their due while impatiently waiting for the 2 weeks to be over so that they could start talking Cricket again.
In contrast, the focus of the Chinese is amazing, it is a country that wants to be at the top of the world order and looks like its there. It’s as if the Chinese people are saying to the world, “we will bother about freedom later, first let’s win the world” and that is a fantastic attitude to have, an amazing people for a country to have.