US-China Rivalry Plays Out at Olympics

China's Ye Shiwen poses with her gold medal on the podium during the women's 400m individual medley victory ceremony at the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre July 28, 2012.
China's Ye Shiwen poses with her gold medal on the podium during the women's 400m individual medley victory ceremony at the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Aquatics Centre July 28, 2012.
Observers say doping accusations against a young Chinese swimming superstar are the latest chapter in what has become a sometimes tense geopolitical rivalry between the United States and China.

After six days of Olympic competition, China and the U.S., the world's two largest economies, are locked in a close race for the most gold medals, with each country so far winning 18.

One of the biggest stories has been the success, and consequent criticism, of Ye Shiwen. The 16-year-old Chinese swimmer's stunning performance has earned her gold medals in both the women's 200-meter and 400-meter events.

Ye's world record-shattering race last Saturday was "unbelievable" and "disturbing," according to top U.S. coach John Leonard. His comments reflected the concern of many who are aware of China's history of doping. Nonetheless, the speculation set off a firestorm of criticism from the Chinese media.

 'Western prejudice'

A commentary in China's official Xinhua news agency said the doping accusations against Ye, who has passed drug tests, are the result of a "stubborn prejudice" by Western media who are "exerting every effort to blacken the performance of Chinese athletes."

But the paper said the issue is larger than just a sports rivalry. The West, it said, is "upset with the rise of China" and is unwilling to recognize that it has become the world's second largest economy.

"As long as China made progress in science and technology, economic and social development, the Western world was busy making up stories of 'cheating' or 'violating international rules,'" the paper said, an apparent reference to recent squabbles between Washington and Beijing over various trade and economic issues.

Projection of national power

Beijing, which views the games as an important indicator of its progress on the world stage, has made huge investments in recent years to ensure that it becomes a global sporting powerhouse, says Phil Lutton, a reporter for Australia's Brisbane Times.

So he says it should come as no surprise that Chinese athletes such as Ye have achieved a good deal of success during this year's Olympic games.

"China's poured an enormous amount of resources post-Beijing (Olympic games) into their sporting programs and athletics programs. You see them dominating in a number of fields at the Olympics, including weightlifting, and swimming is one of them," says Lutton.

New rivalry brewing?

Lutton says he sees an athletic rivalry developing between the U.S. and China, much like the 1970s and 1980s Olympic rivalry between the U.S. and Soviet Union that mirrored the Cold War.

And while the U.S. and China typically excel at different sporting events, resulting in relatively few head-to-head matchups, Lutton says the competition has helped make the games more exciting, particularly in the swimming competition.

"I think it's a good rivalry, (and) we need good rivalries in swimming and sport," he says. "It only adds another layer of intrigue to what's happening around the Olympic pool."

Victor Beattie contributed to this report

Photo Gallery: Day 6 of Competition

  • Tyler Clary of the U.S. celebrates winning the men's 200m backstroke final with an Olympic record.
  • Japan's Shiho Otsuka (L) challenges South Korea's Lee Seonok in their women's Group A hockey match.
  • U.S. gymnast Gabrielle Douglas performs on the balance beam during the artistic gymnastics women's individual all-around competition.
  • Michael Phelps, left, and Ryan Lochte, both from the U.S., start in the men's 200-meter individual medley swimming final.
  • Prince William and his wife Kate watch track cycling at the velodrome.
  • Greece's goalkeeper Filipos Karampetsos blocks the ball during the men's preliminary round Group A water polo match against Kazakhstan.
  • Spain's Pablo Herrera Allepuz misses the ball during a beach volleyball match against Japan.
  • U.S. gymnast Gabrielle Douglas after receiving her gold medal during the artistic gymnastics women's individual all-around competition.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulates Russia's Tagir Khaibulaev after he defeated Mongolia's Tuvshinbayar Naidan in their men's -100kg final judo match.
  • Germany's Dimitrij Ovtcharov serves to Taiwan's Chuang Chih-yuan in the men's singles bronze medal table tennis match.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin, Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague watch the women's -78kg final judo match between Kayla Harrison of the U.S. and Britain's Gemma Gibbons.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against ISi
November 24, 2015 3:04 AM
The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs