Nation jubilant over historic Olympic gold medals

TAIPEI, Taiwan, The China Post Staff and Agencies

The 2004 Athens Olympic Games organizing committee has declared August 26 as “Chinese Taipei Day” after two Taiwan athletes won gold medals in taekwondo events on the same day. Top national leaders joined people on the island to congratulate the two outstanding athletes. Chen Shih-hsin, 26, defeated Cuba’s Yanelis Yuliet Labrada Diaz Thursday in the final of the women’s under 49 kilogram taekwondo division to win Taiwan’s first-ever Olympic gold medal in 72 years.

Shortly afterwards, Chu Mu-yen, a 22-year-old male student, grabbed gold in the men’s under 58 kilogram division by defeating Mexican Oscar Francisco Salazar Blanco.

It marked the first time that any country has ever won two gold medals on a single day in taekwondo since it became an official Olympic event 12 years ago. The Athens Olympic Games organizing committee thus designated August 26 as “Chinese Taipei Day” in honor of athletes from Taiwan. Due to pressure from Beijing, Taiwan has been forced to use “Chinese Taipei” as its Olympic team name instead of its formal national title of “Republic of China.”

Taiwan also has to use a specially designed team flag accompanied with the “National Flag Song” rather than the national flag and national anthem. When the Chinese Taipei team flag was hoisted at the taekwondo competition venue, most Taiwan delegates and cheerleaders attending the Olympic Games were moved to tears, with many embracing each other to share their excitement and happiness.

President Chen Shui-bian was among the countless people in Taiwan who stayed up late Thursday night to watch the live TV telecast of the competition and share the honor when Chen and Chu were presented with the gold medals, the team song was played, and the flag raised. Chen said he was almost moved to tears. He expressed the hope that the double victories will help offset the bad luck faced by Taiwan people with the double onslaught of typhoons in recent weeks.

In his congratulatory messages sent to Chen and Chu, President Chen said he was delighted to learn that both of them won gold medals in their respective competitions at the Olympic Games. He congratulated the two for their outstanding performances and achievements that not only filled the entire nation with cheer, but also raised their own reputations in the world.

Other national leaders who sent congratulatory messages included Vice President Annette Lu and Premier Yu Shyi-kun. Some observers claimed that an appeal for “fair play” by referees by Wu Ching-kuo, an International Olympic Committee (IOC) member from Taiwan, partially contributed to the nation’s winning of the unprecedented two gold medals in taekwondo. The fighters’ superb techniques and grit were the prime factors that earned them their gold medals, said observers from Taiwan attending the games to support the Chinese Taipei athletes. But they also believe that Wu’s strong appeals with IOC Chairman Jacques Rogge and newly elected World Taekwondo Federation President Chung Won Choue to ensure “fair play” from the referees, also played a part in the fighters’ romps to victory.

Developed in ancient Korea as a defensive martial art, Olympic taekwondo has been marred by disputes over biased refereeing in favor of Korean fighters, a controversy that culminated at the Sydney Olympics.

However, Thursday’s flyweight contests did not feature any competitors from South Korea, who grabbed four of the eight gold medals in Sydney.

Wu, also a member of the coordination commission for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, met with Rogge earlier this month over widespread allegations that the results and winners of the 2004 Olympic taekwondo competitions had been decided before a kick had even been aimed.

Wu told Rogge that against this backdrop, the principle of “fair play” should be observed during the taekwondo event. Rogge agreed with Wu’s argument and appointed him as one of three supervisors overseeing the contests.

Wu had also met with Choue in Athens several days ago and expressed his concern about the game-fixing rumors, whereupon Choue promised that the 2004 Games would be fair.

Not completely reassured, Wu announced publicly prior to the beginning of the flyweight division competition Thursday that he would suggest that taekwondo be dropped from the 2008 Olympics if there was evidence of unfairness or controversy over scoring and judging decisions at the Athens games.

In Taipei, several hundreds of enthusiastic sports afficianados thronged the Chiang Kai-shek International Airport to give a warm welcome home to Taiwan athletes on the baseball, softball, badminton, and table tennis teams, though the flight was delayed more than two hours in the afternoon. The back-to-back gold medals lifted Taiwan’s Olympic ranking in terms of medals to the 29th place from the 58th spot when two medals — one silver and one bronze — was awarded earlier. With two golds, one silver, and one bronze, Taiwan now took the fourth place among all Asian nations, after China, Japan, and South Korea.