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Li inspired gymnasts with his high-wire act

by Ed Odeven

BEIJING — It was a magical moment, and it’s worth taking a moment to revisit.

China’s “Prince of Gymnastics,” Li Ning, was suspended in mid-air, traveling around National Stadium at the end of Friday’s Opening Ceremony. His act was the final one of a brilliant visual performance and it was capped by the ceremonial lighting of the Olympic flame.

A day later, the Chinese gymnasts carried that amazing image with them as they took to the floor at National Indoor Stadium.

For sure, Li’s six medals (golds in the floor exercise, pommel horse and rings) at the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Games were in the back of their minds, too. Li set the standard of excellence that all Chinese gymnasts will be measured by.

Asked about how the 44-year-old Li’s stunning spectacle inspired them, Chinese gymnast Zou Kai responded by saying, “The feeling it gave us was of an older brother who was lighting the flame. It was very exciting and moreover it was on our home soil.”

Give Li the gymnastic equivalent of an assist — a big one. China led in the men’s team competition with 374.675 points heading into Monday’s eight-team final round.

My viewpoint: Here are my thoughts the day after judoka Ryoko Tani failed to win a third consecutive gold medal in the women’s 48-kg division:

Tani’s longevity as a top-level athlete is remarkable. To compete in five Olympiads is a testament to her discipline, work ethic and unmatched desire to excel at the highest level. To earn two golds, two silvers and a bronze is an even greater achievement.

It’s no surprise that the Japan Olympic Committee wanted Tani to earn a gold on Saturday and hope that her performance could be a catalyst for first-place finishes in other sports as well.

It wouldn’t be appropriate for the JOC to issue statements that express disappointment over Tani’s failure to win a gold.

Instead, the JOC should praise Tani for being Japan’s first medalist of the 2008 Summer Games and for her incredible staying power as an athlete.

Three years after becoming a mother, Tani remains a great role model for Japanese women.

In fact, now would be a great time for Japanese poets to write haiku with this theme in mind: the inspiration Tani brings to Japanese women.

What others are saying: When time permits, between events, news conferences and even the occasion meal, it’s a treat to catch up on what other journalists are writing for their publications.

Here are a few snippets of the latest blog entry by Filip Bondy of the New York Daily News:

“For one day, I feel like a Canadian reporter at the Olympics, chasing around minor sports in search of America’s first medal.

“The Canadians figure they will be lucky to win three golds the whole time here, and those aren’t exactly in the glamour events. There’s Adam van Koeverden, a veritable medals machine in canoeing and kayaking. Then there’s Karen Cockburn, who won a silver in trampoline in Athens.

“As Cam Cole of the Vancouver Sun says, ‘Basically, we’re not good at anything that matters.’ ”

And then these poignant remarks were posted on SI.com:

“I overheard someone saying that Friday night’s Opening Ceremonies cost $350 million. Impossible, I thought — until I watched them unspool, and began gradually to realize how very possible that might be.

“Guess they didn’t need Steven Spielberg. The goose-stepping soldiers and sudden mob barking I could have done without, but otherwise it was a remarkable spectacle. The artwork-in-progress trope worked very well. The little earthquake survivor walking with Yao Ming could win an archery gold for its unerring aim at the heart. And that I spent so much time trying to figure out how they pulled stuff off is testament to how visually engrossing everything was.

“Got a good sense for what stories get play in the state-run Chinese media, too: There were supportive cheers for the Iraqi delegation, and ho-hum silence when Sudan marched in.”

Memorable quotes: “There is a lot of history behind the route. It is real nice to compete on. The scenery was beautiful, especially when you climbed the Great Wall — it was terrific,” Spanish road cyclist Samuel Sanchez said after winning the 248-km race on Saturday.

“You cannot imagine a harder opening game than this, but I like it,” China forward Yi Jialian said, sizing up Sunday night’s first-round men’s basketball game against the United States, a game U.S. President George W. Bush and his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, were scheduled to attend and more than one billion people were expected to watch the game worldwide.

“Yao has been great for basketball in China. People have seized on that. It continues to globalize the game,” U.S. superstar Kobe Bryant told reporters.

Did you know?: Movie star Jackie Chan’s “Official Album for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games” was released on April 30. He is featured on 10 songs.

Extravagance in Beijing: Scanning the headlines in China Daily, I came across a small item dubbed “The exquisite art of nightlife.” Writer Erik Nilsson profiled ChinaDoll, an upscale nightclub in Beijing’s Chaoyang district.

The VIP room, known as the Ai Wan Room, costs 8,000 yuan ($1,170) to rent for the night, and that’s before food or drinks.