The Power of the X Chromosome: Chi Cheng
If 1968 was the year that put Taiwan back on the sporting map, Chi Cheng was the face that place it there. In that Olympian year, she was one of the world’s three top hurdles by earning bronze in the women’s 80-meter hurdles during the track-and-field competition in the Mexican metropolis –staged at 7,349 feet above sea level. The event was dominated by Eastern Europe and the States.
After securing her country’s second Olympian medal and becoming the first Asian woman in history to accomplish that feat, she gained a special status in her homeland and her name was immortalized on national stamps by the island’s rule. Indeed, it was an important success for the small nation that had not won a medal since 1960. Women’s sport was relatively rare among Asian states during this period (with the exception of Japan).
Over a sporting career that spanned more than seven years, she won a number of international medals inside and outside Taiwan and her “biggest fans” were boys and girls in those wonderful years. From the beginning, she easily broken the national records.
Due to her perseverance,discipline,talent,and patriotism, this California-based sprinter received high praises from internationasl experts and Olympian journalists. By 1971,they crowned Chi Cheng as the “Best Athlete of the world” (surpassing Edson do Nascimento, the top-class footballer from Brazil).
Unequivocally, Chi Cheng was one of the two most popular women on the island, alongside former First Lady Soong May-ling (or Madame Chiang-Kai-shek), an American-oriented woman who had won important financial aid to her country during the early decades of the Cold War.
In Asia, Africa, Latin America, only 15 countries have had world record holders— among them China, Cuba, Brazil, Ethiopia, Haiti, Kenya, Iran, Mexico, Panama, South Africa, South Korea, Tanzania, Uganda, and Taiwan. On July 12, 1970, Chi Cheng, a born-hurdler, confirmed her international stature by breaking the women’s 200-meter record in the Federal Republic of Germany, with a time of 22.44 seconds, becoming the first sprinter from Asia to do so (up to now) and reviving flashes of Taiwanese’s brilliant past.
Throughouther his athletic career, this track star produced six national/continental records in different events at home and abroad. Incredibly, she set four international records in the space of 17 days -No other sportswoman from that continent had ever established 4 regional marks in less than three weeks. On July 12, 1970, she enhanced her growing fame when she had a new Asian record of 12.93 seconds in the women’s 100m hurdles, becoming one of the Planet’s top hurdlers at that year. In the same day, she generated a new mark in the 200 meter-dash. Less than a week after, by Jul. 18, Chi Cheng followed that with other historic record in the 100 meter-dash with a time of 11.22 seconds (which still unbroken). Nearly two weeks after, by the end of July, she caused a plash by establishing another record in the 400m race with a mark of 52.56 seconds. Besides all that, the world record holder also had regional marks in the long jump and 80m hurdles. On the other side, she also was part of the country’s 4×100-meter team.
By the end of 1972, the nation’s second greatest athlete was the highest hope for a medal in the Games of the 20th Olympiad in Munich ( Federal Republic of Germany). Chi Cheng had been named as one of the members of the country’s Olympic national team. Soon afterwards, she, however, did not take part in West Germany. Around this time, the world record holder announced her retirement from sports after some injuries. For a brief time afterward, by 1975, in the International Year of the Woman, Chi Cheng was widely regarded as one of the world’s most prominent sportswomen, alongside Martina Navratilova, Liudmila Tourischeva, Shane Gould and other world-class champs.
After Chi Cheng’s Olympian experience on the Latin American continent, the Asian republic has produced high-profile Hollywood figures such as Ang Lee and Tsai Ming-liang, or Nobel Prizes as Lee Yuan-tseh and Daniel C. Tsui, but it can not produce world titles and global records in spite of being one of the most powerful economies on Earth and one of the Continent’s major liberal democracies.
Gone are the days when the country’s athletes established world records. Fortunately, however, there is an important athletic potential that should receive major attention -for example: The national youth side gave Taiwan a shock win over the USSR (now Russia) at the 1989 Women’s Volleyball Junior World Cup in Lima, on Peru’s Pacific coast).
Country Background. Education: A Key To Taiwan
The entire Asian country is little bigger than Maryland (U.S.). It is located between East and South China seas. Its capital is Taipei, one of the most modern and spectacular cities in the continent. Twenty-five million people live on the island.
Owing to its status as an unrecognized country by United Nations since the early 1970s, the Asian republic has had many hurdles as a member of the global community. On the international stage, it is only recognized by 23 states from Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and South Pacific. Traditionally, the island has a rocky relationship with the Chinese mainland.
Under an ambicious and multi-billion educational project backed by its Constitution (“Expenditures of educational programs, scientific studies and cultural services shall not be, in respect of the Central Government, less than 15 percent of the national budget…”), this East Asian country paved the way for a prosperous society. Following over two decades of troubles, the project began to pay off as Taiwan to become one of the most influential and dynamic economies in Far East after having been one of Asia’s poverty-ridden countries throughout the 1950s.
Unequivocally, the building of its education system has been one of Taiwan’s biggest success stories. In fact, its educational program and economic model has inspired most of the republics of the Third World and other regions on Earth, from Botswana and Mauritius to Chile and Thailand.
Since the year 2000, it is a democracy (one of the world’s newest democracies) following a period of authoritarian regimes. On the other side, women’s rights on Taiwan are among the most advanced in the West Pacific.
Taiwan At The 1960 Italy Summer Games
For the 1960 Games, the national contingent arrived in Rome to begin its participation, but the delegation was the center of controversy when was forced to compete under the banner of Formosa (a name designed by Portugal’s explorers in 1544) instead of the “Republic of China”. Since then, this changed of name was subjected to worldwide criticism. During the Parade of Nations of the Games of the XVII Olympiad, the country’s Olympic Committee also protested.
After a good performance in the early 1960s, the national delegation made a trip to Japan to take part in the 1964 Games. On that occasion, its ill-equipped team did not win medals. From 1964 through 1968, it participated under the banner of Taiwan. Then, by 1972, the anti-Marxist state appeared as the Republic of China (ROC). Since 1984, nonetheless, it competes with the name of Chinese Taipei after an agreementing between Beijing, the island and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), marking the end of Taiwan’s isolation in the global sports arena.
Upon snaring a bronze in the world’s greatest sporting event in the United Mexican States four years earlier, the island’s sporting officials sent a 22-person delegation to Munich’72, participating in ten disciplines: aquatics (3 entries), archery (1), athletics (8), boxing (1), cycling (1), judo (4), sailing (1), shooting (1), weightlifting (1), and wrestling (1). Expectations weren’t high for the nation’s Olympian squad after Chi Cheng’s retirement.
Swimmer Hu Tung-hsiung was one of the 39 entries, among them Mark Spitz of the States, from 27 countries -from Singapore and Colombia to the Philippines and East Germany/German Democratic Republic (GDR)-who competed in the 200m butterfly. Before taking part in the multi-sport event, most of Taiwan’s sportsmen and women had attended the 1970 Continental Games in Southeast Asian nation of Thailand, where was one of the 12 top contingents.
Yang Chuan-Kwang: Breaking Stereotypes In The 20th Century
By the beginning of the 1960s, Taiwan produced a great champion in a time when the island –shapped like a tobacco leaf-was just one of the poverty-stricken countries on the Planet (with per capita GDP equal to most of Africa’s black republics) and also among Asia’s most unstable nations. His name: Yang Chuan-kwang, who represented most Taiwanese’s hopes for an Olympic medal in those years.
By 1963, this sportsman was focus of the attention of the world press: he was one of the first individuals from Asia to establish a world record with 8,089 points in the men’s decathlon, breaking the stereotypes of what makes a great decathlete.
Throughout most of his athletic career, Yang Chuan-kwang set several international records on the island and foreign soil, but he reached his peak as Chinese-Taipei’s decathlon champion when, on September 6, 1960, he won the nation’s first Olympian medal (and first medal in track) upon finishing second in the world’s greatest sporting event on Italian soil, after an epic showdown with America’s Rafer Johnson (who won the James Sullivan Memorial Trophy that year). That day, the audience had all eyes on Taiwanese Yang Chuan-kwang. In fact, his popularity throughout the 1960s added to Taiwan’s international fame. On the other hand, he was one of UCLA’s top athletes.
Historically, Yang Chuan-kwang was considered by several experts and sportswriters to be the island’s greatest native-born athlete. Furthermore, the islander was one of the first Aboriginal athletes to win an individual Olympic medal, along with Jim Thorpe of America. Curiously enough, the nation’s greatest sportsman was member of the Ami Indigenous tribe, one of Taiwan’s ten major tribes, well-known for its matrilineal society and their unique pottery.
Montreal 1976 Olympics: Stolen Dreams
The island was scheduled to participate in the quadrennial Games at Montreal (Quebec, Canada) in the mid-1970s. From the beginning, it had expressed its interest in competing in North America after being expelled from the 1974 Continental Games in Iran, but by July 1976, the Asian republic had difficulties to attend the Montreal Olympics when Canada’s Premier Pierre Trudeau -Beijing’s Cold War ally-refused to issue visas to the national delegation under the name of “Republic of China”.
Overnight, inexplicably, the Canadian rule defended its position in the face of criticism from Washington’s administration and Taiwan’s Latin American diplomatic partners. Owing to this, on July 17, 1976, the island’s uncontested leader, Chiang Ching-kuo, cancelled the Olympic participation rather than compete with the banner of Taiwan; just when some Taiwanese representatives had already arrived in North America.
Notable athletes lost the opportunity to compete in the multi-sport event in Quebec, such as regional champs: Tan Wwang (1500m), Tai Shih-jan (110m hurdles), Chen Chin-long (triple jump), Chen Ping-huan (javelin throw), Lee Chiu-hsia (800m, 1500, and 3000m), Lin Yet-hsing (100m hurdles and long jump), and Chen Fu-mei (400m hurdles).
Track and field Tai Shih-jan was one of the finest members of the country’s national squad in the Second Athetics Asian Championships, by June 1975, when he was two-time gold medalist by defeating national-class hurdlers from Malaysia, Japan, and Kuwait in the finals.
Throughout the 1970s, Tai Shih-jan was the top Taiwanese in the men’s 110m and 400m hurdles. Meanwhile, Lee Chiu-hsia was the Tournament’s most outstanding female athlete in Korea upon capturing three Asian golds following a hard battle against Masae Namba of Japan in the women’s 800m. Trying to qualify for the 1976 Montreal Games, Taiwan’s would-be star finished the event in 2 minutes and 8 seconds. Upon her wins as one of the greatest middle-distance runners from Asia in 1975, her fame spread beyond the nation. At the time, from 1974 through 1978, she was bitterly disappointing when the Asian Olympic Committee refused to allow athletes from Taiwan to attend the Asian Games in Iran and Thailand.
Lee Chiu-hsia had a great potential of becoming a world champ in athletics. Nevertheless, toward the end of the 1970s, her career was hit again when her dream of competing at the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympic Games did not come about. Why? The nation’s sports administrators refused to take part in the multi-sport event with the name of Chinese-Taipei.
A Tortuos Path: Taiwan Faced An International Boycott
In practice, Taiwan is viewed as a “hostile province” by Beijing since 1949 when the government of the Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek established the island as the seat of the Republic of China. Under China’s pression, Taiwan’s international status as an Olympian nation was uncertain at the turn of the 1970s. The Asian republic was banned from international sports competitions around the globe, becoming an isolated nation on the sporting map, alongside Rhodesia’s racist regime (present-day Zimbabwe), South Africa’s white minority rule, and the Vietnamese-occupied Cambodia.
At the beginning of the 1970s, the Chinese administration on Taiwan was ousted from the world community of nations when it was replaced by the People’s Republic of China as a member of the United Nations. Throughout the 1970s, over 60 states severed diplomatic ties to Taipei’s rule, including Japan (on September 29, 1971), Thailand (on July 1, 1975), and Washington (on January 1, 1979). Also, the island was on the Kremlin administration’s black-listed of states where the Soviet athletes could not compete, alongside Pinochet’s Chile, Stroessner’s Paraguay and Park Chung Hee’s South Korea.
Unequivocally, the People’s Republic also banned its competitors to visit Taiwan until the early 1990s when two mainland Chinese basketball squads departed for Taipei to play local teams.
Within a span of two decades, the Taiwanese representatives were not allow to attend the Asian Games (Tehran’ 74, Bangkok ’78, New Delhi’ 82, and Seoul ’86). Although three countries –Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand-made common cause with Taipei, by September 1973, the island was excluded from the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA). It sent its top Olympic leaders to the OCA to argue their case, but they failed. Twenty years earlier, by the beginning of the 1950s, South Africa’s apartheid and Taiwan were considered “pariahs” by the International Table Tennis Federation.
By 1974, in Mexico City, the FIVB -the world volleyball’s governing body- was one of the major sporting organizations to break ties to Taipei after China’s admission. Inexplicably, the island was expelled by a vote of 54 in favor, 18 against, and 3 abstentions. In spite of these hurdles, the country’s sporting officials sent many athletic contingents to Taiwan’s diplomatic partners throughout the world. Within these years, for example, a swimming team -integrated by seven locals and five American-trained athletes- departed for Latin America. During their tour, they astonishingly gained a Buenos Aires meet, upon capturing twenty-two events. A couple of years earlier, the islanders came in third place at an Uruguay meet by bagging nine medals -behind America (40 trophies) and Argentina (15).
In anti-Communist times, the Taiwanese capital hosted the William Jones Basketball Cup; over 50 basketball teams, including Britain, Sweden and Bolivia, were offered an all-expense paid trip o Taipei to attend the international meet. Chinese-Taipei was also one of the first states in Asia to maintain close ties with the Spanish-speaking world. At the time, for example, two national coaches headed for La Paz to train the Bolivian national team for the 1977 Bolivarian Games.
In an attempt to isolate the island, the Communist China had boycotted the Games in the space of three decades to protest Taiwan’s Olympic participation. But during Los Angeles 1984 Olympics, it -after an absence of 12 years- and the People’s Republic marched for the first time in the Parade of Nations. Thereafter, Taiwan was a pariah no longer.
By 1984, the Chinese mainland made its Olympian debut and the island its ninth appearance after competing at Los Angeles’32, Berlin ’36 – where the Taiwanese anthem was honored as the world’s best piece- London ’48, Melbourne ’56, Rome’60 (debut with the name Formosa), Tokyo ’64, Mexico ’68, and Munich’72.
In California, its international return this year could not have been better: Surprisingly, Taiwan won its first medal since 1984 as it was medalist in the weightlifting competition with Tsai Wen-yee. Unequivocally, he was the key figure behind Taiwan’s return.
As well as snaring a medal in the weightlifting event, the nation’s baseball got the bronze in the Demonstration Tournment. On this occasion, Kuo Tai Yuan became one of the top baseball players in Southern California.
To prepare for the 1984 Olympiad, Chinese Taipei’s baseball entered many international meets. A year earlier, they finished third at the 1983 Intercontinental Cup,which was held in Belgium, after having participated in the 28th Seoul World Tournament. Around this time, the baseball team departed for the Caribbean to attend a Cuba meet. On the other hand, this baseball-mad nation earned the Junior 1983 Global title – the nucleus of the country’s baseball squad at the 1992 Spain Olympics.
During the Los Angeles XXIII Games, Taiwan’s Olympic team was represented by 59 élite competitors (51 sportsmen and 8 women). On that occasion, there were islanders in more than a dozen disciplines: archery (6 entries), athletics (10), baseball (20), boxing (2), cycling (2), fencing (2), judo (5), modern pentathlon (1), sailing (2), shooting (3), swimming (5), tennis (1), weightlifting (4), and wrestling (2). Likewise, the national delegation was accompanied by thirty sports officials.
Following Taiwan’s participation at Los Angeles’84, the Asian athletes began its return to global sporting events, attending the Men’s Volleyball World Cup in Paris (France), between September and October 1986, where the national side placed 15th by defeating heavily favored Venezuela (runners-up at the South American Cup in Caracas) with a score of 15-5, 12-15, 15-10, and 15-3. Subsequently, the women’s basketball team headed for Moscow – the capital of the Soviet Empire– to attend the Global competition despite a troubled history between the island and the Kremlin. Soon afterwards, the hockey national squad was one of the competitors in the World Cup in Colombia. Likewise, for the first time a Taiwanese was medalist in the Junior IAAF Global Athletics Tournament in Canada when the up-and-coming Hui-Fang Nai got the bronze in the men’s long jump with a mark of 7,77m.
Summer Olympics in South Korea
At the 1988 Seoul Games, many Asian nations won individual medals (for example: Mongolia, Philippines, Thailand, and the Islamic republic of Iran), but not Taiwan-one of the most disappointing results in its history. Its once flourishing athletic system had been in decline. Fortunately, however, its fighters, Chin Yu-fang and Chen Jiun-feng, obtained medals, gold and bronze, in the Taekwondo competition, which was introduced as a demonstration sport in the 1988 Olympiad.
In Korea, the baseball squad narrowly missed the bronze when they were one of the four best teams, among eight competitors in the demonstration event. By 1984, they got the bronze in the under-20 World Cup on Canadian soil and climbed even higher at the Senior Global Championship two years later, capturing the silver medal.
On September 25, 1986, the Taiwanese Olympic Committee was readmitted to the Olympic Council of Asia (OCA), after withdrawing 13 years earlier. Four years on, the sports leaders announced that the rule will allow their athletes to compete in mainland China with the name of “Chinese Taipei”. Shortly afterwards, on September 17, 1990, a 200-member contingent departed for the People’s Republic for the nation’s first attendance of the Asian Games since 1970. Then, there were 186 islanders at the First East Asian Games at Shangai. By 2001, Chinese Taipei’s 106 élite athletes departed for Beijing to attend the World University Games.
» Read more: London 2012 Olympics: Taiwan – Report An Olympic Land: 1960-2012