The Atlantic: The most heated competition in the 2008 Olympics could take place not in a stadium but in the TaiwanStrait by Jennifer Lind
Since the ancient competitions at Olympia, the Olympic Games have transcended national rivalries and celebrated universal human achievement. Yet throughout modern history the Olympics have also been mired in power politics, international tension, and even violence. In the games following both world wars the defeated nations were prohibited from competing. Nazi Germany used the 1936 games in Berlin to showcase its dramatic resurgence and to intimidate its neighbors with images of German power and unity. South Africa was banned from the games from 1964 to 1992 because of its apartheid laws. And in 1972 the Olympics became a battlefield in the Arab-Israeli conflict when Palestinian terrorists killed eleven Israeli athletes in a hostage crisis. Politics saturated the Olympics throughout the Cold War: the United States led a boycott of the 1980 Moscow games to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the Soviets organized a retaliatory boycott of the Los Angeles games four years later.
The 2008 Olympics, the first ever to be held in China, will be a similar exercise in politics by other means, starting with a battle for prestige: after the Americans dominated at the Athens games in 2004, China and Russia agreed to cooperate to best America in Beijing. The official Chinese goal is to win 110 medals—seven more than the United States won in Athens. To this end China and Russia will exchange coaches and share training methods and facilities. (Chinese Olympic organizers have promised that in return for Moscow’s assistance they will instruct Chinese fans to cheer for Russian athletes at any event in which no Chinese athlete is competing.) In 2004 China’s sports minister, Yuan Weimin, told U.S. Olympic Committee Chairman Peter Ueberroth before the Athens games, “Don’t worry—we will not topple you. But we are making this effort.”