China has been swept by a wave of patriotism sparked by the country’s success at the London Olympics — and headline-grabbing scandals have not dampened the mood.

From table tennis and shooting to diving and swimming, the gold medals have poured in, and hundreds of millions of Chinese have been glued to the wall-to-wall coverage of the Games on state TV.

Meanwhile, the controversies that have hit the country’s campaign — unsubstantiated claims of doping in the pool and a badminton match-throwing furore — have largely been met with anger or defensiveness.

“With each gold medal that China wins, I feel my heart leap,” said saleswoman Huang Weiwei as she ate lunch in a Beijing fast-food restaurant, her eyes fixed on a wall-mounted TV showing the Games.

China are at the top of the medal table — ahead of the second-placed United States — with 20 golds, 13 silvers and nine bronzes, and there are plenty more opportunities with a week of the Games still to go.

After she leaves her shop in the fashionable district of Sanlitun, Huang, 26, eats dinner then sits down to watch the Olympics until midnight.

She can only see a few live events because of the time difference, but that has not stopped state television showing Olympics programmes almost constantly.

State-run TV’s CCTV-5 has even been transformed into the official Olympic channel, broadcasting patriotic reports in which the red national flag with its five stars makes constant appearances.

The country’s 2012 Olympics heroes so far include table tennis player Zhang Jike, swimmers Sun Yang and Ye Shiwen, diver Wu Minxia and Yi Siling, who won in the 10m air rifle competition.

“The Chinese are excelling in many disciplines,” said Sun Yue, a young woman who lives in the capital. “The success in organising the 2008 Beijing Games has given the athletes confidence.”

With almost perfect organisation and a colossal budget, China’s first hosting of an Olympics four years ago provided the Asian giant with an opportunity to flex its muscles in a spectacular fashion on the world stage.

For a country that has always put huge emphasis on Olympic success to project itself as a leading world power, it is unsurprising that any setbacks to its carefully planned campaign are extremely sensitive.

Unsubstantiated allegations of doping levelled at swimmer Ye Shiwen, 16, who won gold in the women’s 400m individual medley in a world-record time, sparked public outrage.

“The truth is that Westerners can’t accept the fact that the Chinese swimming team has improved enormously,” said Wang Hou, adding his voice to those of thousands of web users who have denounced what they see as the West’s arrogance.

And while there was some shame after badminton star Yu Yang retired from the sport after being disqualified for throwing a match, many chose to blame the system instead of the player.

(This article was published on August 4, 2012)
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