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China's response to 2012 Olympics: American physique tough to beat

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Ng Han Guan/AP

(Read caption) China's Liu Xiaobo celebrates after defeating Turkey's Bahri Tanrikulu in their bronze medal match in the men's plus 80-kg taekwondo competition at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Saturday, Aug. 11, in London.

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China’s People’s Daily newspaper topped off its coverage of the London Olympics on Monday pronouncing that the Communist Party’s leadership had sent congratulations to the country’s Olympic team.

Then the Communist Party mouthpiece suggested that the Chinese shouldn’t compete with United States because Westerners have bigger chests and heads.

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This type of coverage a day after the London Olympics closing ceremonies fails to mention what the world saw throughout much of the Games: China was leading the US team early in the Games in what would have been a first-ever blowout for the country fixed on besting the world’s best in every department.

But it lost that lead in later matches. That detail, however, appeared to be lost on the country’s official media. Instead, hints of angst show in stories such as the one comparing athlete physiques.

The question among propagandists in Beijing was probably something like, how can we use the Chinese team’s Olympic performance to whip up patriotism without misstating facts about the medal count?

China looks to its performance in the Olympics, as well as its space launches and its Antarctic expeditions, to tell its public via the tightly controlled media that their nation is doing well internationally. Otherwise the public might lose confidence in China over the wealth gap, inflation, and other slow spots in its march to become a first-world country.

The same country hopes not to upset other world powers, particularly the United States. The two sides distrust each other’s strength and competing political systems but need each other economically.

Another newspaper, the state-run, English-language China Daily newspaper reports that the United States came in first but omits China’s tally from its lead Olympic story. China Daily’s Monday coverage also pointed out that “China was stripped of the gold medal” in women's team sprint track cycling and that the team had said it would appeal to the International Olympic Committee.

The US team bagged 104 medals compared to China’s 88. The US took 46 golds compared with China's 38.

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A summary of the Games by the official Xinhua News Agency explains tersely that China’s 38 gold medals received “the highest praise from overseas.”

Like the media, even China’s often racy microblogs were restrained from any bellyaching about the Olympics results. But some Sina Weibo blog contributors took aim at particular athletes, such as a Korean modern pentathlon racer who lost points when his horse lost control. Chinese fans typically root against South Koreans, who they say are too intense and often inclined to cheat.

Beijing’s Global Times newspaper took a dare in casting China’s post-game dilemma:

“The country could pretend to be stupid and sell itself short, but if we think we’re too cool, that might be worse,” the popular Beijing commuter paper said. “The Olympics is a real mirror, not a fake one, on one aspect of the world.”