Japan, China and the Olympic Cold War

The second half of the last century was marked, almost entirely, a mood which gripped the entire globe - the Cold War. The United States versus USSR, capitalism versus communism, both with their allies and corresponding military organisations - NATO on our side and the Warsaw Pact on the other, each with their missiles strategically placed and targetting the other side. Fortunately, nobody pressed the button, although it is said that in 1962, during the Cuban missile crisis, we weren’t too far away from mass destruction. Happily, it never came to blows and instead, it was played out on two conflict-free stages - the space race and the Olympic Games, in which the two world powers went head to head at the top of the medals table.

Gold medalists Junxuan Yang, Yufei Zhang, Bingjie Li and Muhan Tang of Team China after winning the Women's 4 x 200m Freestyle Relay Final

China and Japan sit atop the medals table

Now that battle has moved to the Far East, at least it looks that way to me. By the end of Thursday’s action, China and Japan shared leadership in the medals table level on 15 golds. China led in silver medals (7-4) as well as in bronze medals (9-6). The two western powers, with tensions between them escalating once again, are looking intently at each other. For both of them, beating their rival would give them immense satisfaction. In all likelihood, Team USA, whose prowess in the track and field events will be right at the fore in the coming days, will finish ahead of ROC in the final standings. But that won’t be anything to worry about for Japan and China, who are involved in a contest of their own. The Olympics vitalises a symbolic character in competing nations that is impossible to ignore.

Doping

The United States won the space race with the silver bullet of landing the first man on the moon. Victory at the Olympics proved to be a much harder battle as it involved a third rival, East Germany, who took doping practices to the very limit. But that also went on in the USSR and of course in the United States, although in a more liberal manner, and not as some kind of  state cause. Putin has revived those old habits, as highlighted and denounced by Grigory Rodchenkov in his award-winning book - which led to Russia being banned from the Tokyo Games. Russian athletes deemed substance-free have been competing at the Games under their national Olympic Committee flag and so far sit fourth in the medals table. Not that it really counts. The real contest is being played out by Japan and China.