Saturday, May 31, 2008

Chinese Rowing

While Yao Ming will largely be the face of the Olympics this year because of their international success and status as a favorite in their particular sports, basketball will most likely not be the sport that China is considering the most important to win.

The sports that China will be devoting most of their resources to are the so called 'medal rich' sports such as swimming, track and field, rowing and canoing/sailing. These sports have the most individual events within the discipline.

Rowing is an up and coming specialty for the Chinese, with rowers funneled into the program largely because they just barely missed the cut in other Olympic ultra-competitive endurance sports such as running and triathlon. As a result, the Chinese rowing program full athletes with very similar traits; tall and lean with outstanding endurance abilities; all ideal qualities for a rower.

This large influx of talent into a single sport is the main reason China is concentrating so many of their resources towards rowing; this represents China's grand ambition to capture more gold medals than any other nation at the Olympic Games. Rowing represents 14 potential gold medals for China, a goal much grander than a single gold in say basketball or soccer.

China has never even come close to winning the overall medal count at the Summer Games, a bragging right that the United States has held since 1996. In 2004, the United States had 102 medals , followed by Russia with 93 and China rounding out the third spot with 63.
Gold medal counts on the other hands is a much tighter battle. China had 32, only four behind the United States, a deficit the highly motivated Chinese are determined to close.

Chinese rowing is not without an impressive track record, lending to a favored contender status at the Olympics this summer.

China has won four medals in rowing, none gold, since its first Olympics in 1932. But suddenly, in a sport unfamiliar to most Chinese, the rowers have become a team to beat at the Beijing Games. China has qualified more boats than all but 4 of the 57 countries on the Olympic rowing roster so far.

Since 2006, Chinese rowers have won 18 gold medals at world championships and World Cup events, more than double the number of victories in the previous three years. At a World Cup regatta last year in Amsterdam, China stunned some leading teams by taking home 10 medals. It won five golds in the 14 events contested in the Olympics.

Quietly and swiftly, rowing has quickly grown to be a sport the Chinese are becoming dominant in, and likely by the end of the summer, it will be a newfound national sport with posters of the sport's heros adorning the walls along side Yao Ming and Xiu Liang.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

More Fukudome!

Kosuke Fukudome has earned yet another American sports accolade;

the May 5th 2008 cover of Sports Illustrated.

As if that wasn't big enough, he's also earned approval of the rapid Chicago fans, the cover of the official Fukudome fan a t-shirt.

So along with confirmation of his stardom by the upper echelons of sports journalism and Cubs fans, his .326 batting average is giving him a serious head-start for the NL Rookie of the Year award...

Who was the 2001 AL Rookie of the Year? Just a nobody named Ichiro Suzuki...

Yeah, Fukudomania IS ON.


I'd like to apologize to my readers for the lack of content lately. My day job has been keeping me very busy this month but it's dying down very soon. I look forward to having regular posts in the very near future!

Thanks for sticking it out everyone!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Fukudome T-Shirt: Funny or Offensive?

Kosuke Fukudome has been on fire ever since his arrival in the United States from the Chunichi Dragons of the Japanese league. He's hit .317, stolen 3 bases, and had 9 runs-batted-in in only 17 games. Think Suzuki Ichiro but with more power... quick, flexible and hits for power.

So it's not a surprise that Chicago Cubs fans are crazy about their latest important from Japan. But with all the fanaticism of Cubs fans comes the ugly side of Wrigley Field as well; an attempt at player endearment ends up offending lots of people.

The shirt has the classic Cubs picture but they've altered it to have slanted eyes, glasses and replaced the popular "Holy Cow" of the Cubs announcer Harry Caray, with "Horry Kow!"
If you don't really get it... try saying "derivery" out loud or "herroh". Replacing 'l's with 'r's is an easy way to mimic an Asian accent.

Kosuke himself, the butt of this t-shirt joke, certainly doesn't find it funny... when shown the t-shirt, Kosuke says

''I don't know what the creator of the shirt meant this to be, but they should make it right . . . Maybe the creator created it because he thought it was funny, or maybe he made it to condescend the race. I don't know.'

Regardless, it's not funny. The image feeds not only ugly, arrogant and ignorant Japanese stereotypes, but also the stereotype of the obnoxious, profane, drunken, booing, garbage-throwing Cubs fan."

Seeing this story reminded me of a very similar controversy (but to be fair, these kinds of cultural comics happen all the time in every media medium and with every culture) that clothing retailer Abercrombie and Fitch had a few years back.

Some topics will always be off-limits for t-shirt jokes, or even jokes in general; homo-sexuality, abortion etc... but are what about these?

As strongly as I feel about people retaining a strong sense of their cultural past in America, I feel just as strongly that people that come here from other countries should be regarded as evenly as other Americans and shouldn't be treated any differently. So should people like me be really offended at these t-shirts? After all, according to my own feelings, we're all Americans first and fore-most, so they should all be considered as just another joke...

What do you guys think?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Chien-Ming Wang Charity

In honor of my favorite player Chien-Ming Wang and the charitable spirit of Respect Jeter's Gangster, I've decided to donate $1.00 for every ground-ball out that Wang makes in his starts until the end of baseball season in October.

Why a ground-ball out? One, Wang is not a strike-out pitcher and his money pitch is the hard sinker (which induces ground-ball outs); second, the more money that goes to charity the better right?

The charity I've decided to is the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Reason? Simple, sports is a source of never-ending inspiration to kids of every sex, ethnicity, heritage and financial upbringing all over the world. Seeing a few of the ESPN "My Wish" series only solidified my belief in this and the importance of sports in every kid's life.

Thanks to Respect Jeter's Gangster for inspiring this action. RJG has also pledged $1.00 for every home run hit by a Yankee for the rest of the season. If A-Rod has the season he had last year, RJG is already going to be in the hole, but like he said, it's all about the kids.

I'll have a box on the side of this blog as a running tally of Wang's ground-balls this season.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Nike in China

Just how big is Olympic gold medalist 110m hurdler Liu Xiang? Big just in China right? Let's try this.

Big enough for Nike to bestow upon him an honor given only to elite, status symbol defining athletes.

Every sport has a hero.

Tiger Woods is synonymous to Nike Golf.
Rohnaldinho is synonymous to Nike Futbol.
Michael Jordan is synonymous to Nike Basketball.





Zhang Han, a DJ based in Beijing wearing a Nike jacket that says China on the front

Now Nike is looking to make Liu Xiang synonymous to Nike Track and Field on sport's biggest stage at sport's biggest up and coming country. The 2008 Beijing Olympics. Even though Adidas paid over $80 million to become the official partner of the Olympics and is the official outfitter of all Chinese medal winners, this isn't stopping Nike from striking deals with big name athletes that are expected to be popular with all the Chinese watching this summer including Liu Xiang and Yi Jianlian and releasing exclusive Chinese themed sneakers and clothing.

Liu Xiang and Ronaldinho at the opening of Nike's flagship store in Beijing

Last month, Nike introduced a line of sneakers in China named 1984, commemorating the first time the country took part in the Olympics under Communist Party rule, winning 15 gold medals. The line features limited-edition retro sneakers with chunky red soles and decorated with yellow Chinese characters spelling the word for "breakthrough."

Liu Xiang and Ronaldinho at the opening of Nike's Beijing flagship store

Launched exclusively in China last June, the Nike Air Jordan 1 XQ China edition, with dragon-inspired patterns and red silk accents, was the first Air Jordan shoe designed with Chinese characteristics.

Last summer, Nike introduced shoes and sports clothes featuring Mr. Liu's date of birth, gold medals, and a picture of a star he drew as a child.

Such marketing tactics are actually a shift from recent years, when Nike promoted American-style individualism and U.S. sports starts, turning Michael Jordan and LeBron James into heros among young Chinese. In the past year, Tracey McGrady and Kobe Bryant have been the highest selling NBA jerseys in China over the past year... shockingly enough, Yao Ming's jersey has been sitting at number 6. Now after seeing Liu Xiang, Yao Ming and Yi Jianlian launched into phenomenal success in the international spotlight, the Chinese are getting antsy to see their athletic profile to explode like their newfound economic success.

A Nike wushu uniform on display at the 9th World Wushu Championships in Beijing last November.

Only adding onto the Chinese's hunger is seeing athletes from rival Asian countries spring into American sports stardom in sports that the Chinese has so far been unable to penetrate. Suzuki Ichiro, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Matsui (which just got married btw, congratulations!!) are revered as deities of baseball in their homeland of Japan, most of them with museums dedicated to them in their hometowns. Golfers KJ Choi and Jeong Jang are Korean barrier breakers. Chien-Ming Wang of the New York Yankees is nothing less of a national hero in Taiwan.

So while China overshadows Japan, Korea and Taiwan in just about everything else, the athletic successes and accomplishments of these three countries seems to level the playing field with the behemoth country.

So while Yao Ming, Yi Jianlian and Liu Xiang are undeniable international sports superstars, China wants more...

China is capable of more...

China is destined for more.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Matsui Gets Married

I always implicitly assumed that Hideki Matsui of the Yankees has been married, so when news broke that he finally got married this past Wednesday, I was a little bit surprised but the most curious thing of all was that he apparently told no one about it, not even his teammates knew why he took a sudden leave of absence to New York (for his wedding).

Talk about global reach, his wedding was blessed by the chief government spokesperson in Japan, wishing him "a very happy wedding".

"How do you say sneaky in Japanese?" said a stunned Derek Jeter.

But the identify more than a sketch of his new wife is completely unknown. All Matsui said in his press release was that she is a "25-year-old civilian and had been formerly working in a reputable position at a highly respected company."

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Yao set to be China's first torchbearer

Yao looks set to be the first to carry the Olympic torch when it comes into China for the first time in Sanya, Southwest China's Hainan Province. According to the route map, it looks like he would be carrying the torch for a 200 meter stretch with Yi Jianlian, fellow countryman and NBA Milwaukee Bucks forward set to be his backup (don't imagine Yao will have a problem jogging 200 meters though).

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Is Ichiro's brain bigger than mine?

That's what Dr. Kenichiro Mogi (nice naming coincidence there....), a celebrity brain scientist in Japan says, or at least that his brain is better than mine.

Ichiro says he's eaten the same thing for lunch (homemade Japanese curry cooked by his wife Yumiko) before home games for all 7 years of his career in Seattle, and when on the road prefers cheese pizza, easy on the sauce and fluffy on the edges. Doc attributes this routine for Ichiro's consistency at the plate. This isn't too hard to believe, baseball players more than athletes from any other sport are creatures of habit, abiding zealously by their pre-game rituals that every player has whether it's when they wake up, what they eat or their specific pre-game workout routine.

Where Dr. Mogi goes a little off the beaten path is when he says that Ichiro has remarkable "metacognition". Dr Mogi says "It's the ability to observe yourself as if you're observing your own internal state from the outside. Of course, it's all your own feeling, but you can access and analyze it as if you are observing it from an objective point of view."

Dr. Mogi says Ichiro has an ability to be able to separate himself from his body after an at-bat and be able to analyze all the feelings, sensations, emotions and other "intagibles" that he felt during the at-bat and figure out what he did wrong.

Really sounds like either the doc or Ichiro are full of it (probably even both of them....)... but baseball is a game of numbers and numbers of all things don't lie...

"Ichiro begins this season with 1,592 hits in the major leagues, just more than halfway to 3,000 in his seven years with the Mariners. If he plays beyond his new five-year deal that begins this season, he could conceivably achieve 3,000 hits in the major leagues. He'd be in his 40s, but 10 of the 27 players to reach the milestone achieved it in their 40s.

Adding his 1,278 hits from Japan, 3,000 more in America would give Ichiro more lifetime hits than Pete Rose's 4,256, currently the most of any pro to ever swing a bat."

Maybe his brain is better than mine.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Sports > Politics

It's worth noting... for all the "we'll officially declare war on Taiwan if they declare independence" crap that China spews, sport seems to transcend that...

During the MLB Beijing series, many fans that were in attendance didn't know a single from a wild pitch, but when Taiwanese shortstop Chin-Lung Hu of the Dodgers came up to bat for the first time, the crowd erupted and was cheered wildly... maybe it was because it was the first Asian face seen during the game... but the fact he was from a politically hostile country seemed to not be obvious at all.

Chin-Lung Hu

Even Korean right-hand pitcher Chan Ho Park of the Dodgers was popular with Chinese fans. The fact that South Korea (where Park is from) fought the terrible Korean war against China less than 50 years ago was of no importance during this baseball-centered weekend.

Chan Ho Park

Many analysts that are watching MLB make their push into China seem to be on the pessimistic side of things, not quite believing that baseball will catch on in China like basketball has.... but I'll go out on a limb and say that I bet I know what every Chinese fan in the stands was thinking when Hu and Park came up...."oh man, I wish he was Chinese... is it that impossible?"

Just say when.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Padres and Dodgers in Beijing

Now playing at the Wukesong Stadium, the San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers??

Chin-Lung Hu chatting with the Chinese National Team

OK, spit out the first thing that comes into your mind when I say baseball in the Far East.... Daisuke Matsuzaka.... Ichiro Suzuki...... Hideki Matsui...... right? Just a few of the names that'll pop right up. Notice a trend? All from the land of the rising sun.

Now name a MLB player from China....... drawing a blank? So am I...

So that is why this weekend was a momentous past few days in Beijing, China for reasons completely unrelated to the Summer Olympics.

Baseball has always faced adversity in China. In the 1960s, Communist Leader Mao Zedong banned the game because it had Western roots and the sport has struggled to gain mainstream interest in the country since his death in 1976. This is in opposition to the cult like following baseball has in Japan ever since American Professor at the University of Tokyo, Horace Wilson introduced the game in 1872.

No hometown fans here... just generic MLB hats at the Beijing game

Arguably the greatest reason that baseball hasn't caught on yet in the land of 1.5 billion, is that they don't have a good reason to get excited about it.... or to be more accurate, no one to get excited about.
Ichiro Suzuki single-handedly brought baseball to the entire country of Japan in 2001.
Yao Ming made 3 pointers and the crossover household terms to 1.5 billion people in 2002.
Chien-Ming Wang brought the sinker-ball and strikeout to the dinner table as conversation topics for every family in Taiwan.

Dodgers squad on the Great Wall....the Great Wall!!

Who will bring baseball to China and when? The MLB is looking to answer that question starting with this past weekend. The LA Dodgers and San Diego Padres played a 2 game series this past weekend in Beijing's Wukesong Stadium. The Friday night game was played to a 3-3 tie and the Padres beat the Dodgers 6-3 on Saturday night. But more important than the score of the two games was the fact that this was the first American Major League game in China... ever. Exhibition games are common place in Japan with the Boston Red Sox season opener to be held in Japan over the venerable Fenway Park.

Who of China's young athletes will make the jump and bring back the passion of baseball?

Former NY Yankees skipper Joe Torre on the Great Wall

Sunday, March 9, 2008

24 and counting...

Thank you to for this graphic...

While it's certainly a great sign that major league sports in the United States are reaching out to other countries in an attempt to diversify team rosters, we can't ever forget that it'll always be about the money to the guys in suits...

Yung Chi Chen from Taiwan, minor league star second
baseman for the Seattle Mariners

Chien-Ming Wang from Taiwan,
right hander for the New York Yankees

Takashi Saito (right) from Japan, right-hand relief pitcher for the LA Dodgers
Hiroki Kuroda (left) from Japan, right-hand relief pitcher for the LA Dodgers

Kazuo Fukumori of Japan, right-hand pitcher for the Texas Rangers

Jae Kuk Ryu of South Korea, right-hand pitcher for the Tampa Bay Rays

Shin-Soo Choo of Korea, outfielder for the Cleveland Indians

Yasuhiko Yabuta of Japan, right-hand pitcher for the Kansas City Royals (struck out Alex Rodriguez, Derrek Lee and Johnny Damon in the World Baseball Classic in 2006 for Japan)