Yesterday I posted a rant about how the Olympics ought to be depoliticized and treated as a game rather than a political spectacle. Of course this in itself is a naive aspiration, since (as one of the commenters to my post rightly remarked) by its very nature the Olympics plays into our atavistic nineteenth century nationalisms, with nations sending their best athletes to compete for a countable stack of medals, to be tallied up at the end like coins. This year many people speculate that China will win the greatest number of gold medals. Some will complain about this, citing the authoritarian-style sports culture that enables China to build its top athletes. I remember the Dartmouth College women's swim coach when I was there in '87-'91 was a former Olympic swimmer for the PRC. Word was that she'd spent so much time training as a child that she hadn't even mastered the most basic skills outside the pool, like swinging on a child's swing. Then again, I haven't seen many swings in China, and as a father to a 3-year old, I'm particularly fine-tuned to these things. But the point was that kids are taken into the system at an early age and trained in a kind of robotic fashion to excel in one skill at the expense of all others. Similar critiques to the Soviet and East German athletes back in the Cold War Era. Whereas Olympic athletes in the West are supposedly more well-rounded and "amateur" by tradition (not that I buy into this necessarily). So getting back to this "clash of civilizations/ideologies" theme, I suppose that the current media frenzy over the lead-up to the Olympics boils down to this fundamental question of democratic versus authoritarian states, and if the authoritarian state can garner more medals than the great bastion of democracy, what does this say about the world? Well, I leave it to the pundits and the China scholars to deal with that one. By the way, there's been some excellent coverage of the preparations for the Beijing Olympics on the China Beat blogsite, run by China (and Shanghai) expert Jeff Wasserstrom with contributions by many China scholars. I've become quite a fan of that site lately and have it tagged on my google homepage.