Wushu is Now (Almost) an Olympic Event
by Anthony Roberts
Wushu's hour is not here yet, but it is getting closer.
After years of trying (and failing) to get their national sport into the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, the People's Republic of China worked out a compromise with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in which a wushu tournament would be held in conjunction with the Summer Olympics, but would not count as an official medal event. The result was Wushu Tournament Beijing 2008 (WTB 2008), which took place August 21 to 24 in the Olympic Sports Centre.
(left to right) Rachel Margalit (taolu), Colvin Wang (taolu), Tenyia Lee (taolu), Xiaolin Lu (WTB 2008 Arbitration Committee and USAWKF board member Xiaolin Lu), Malee Khow (team leader), Tat Mau Wong (team coach), Max Chen (sanshou), Sarah Ponce (sanshou)
In contrast to the biennial World Wushu Championships, in which each member country of the International Wushu Federation (IWUF) can send a team, selection for this competition was based on athletes' results at the 9th World Wushu Championships. Any athlete scoring in the top six of certain events, or in the top six of certain combined events (such as broadsword and staff), qualified to compete at WTB 2008. A limited number of wild cards were also awarded to certain IWUF member nations.
Based on their final standings at last year's world championships, four U.S. athletes qualified for WTB 2008, and one was selected for the team with a wild card:
In Taolu: Tenyia Lee, Rachel Margalit (wild card), and Colvin Wang.
In Sanshou: Max Chen and Sarah Ponce.
Leading the U.S. team was USAWKF Vice President Ms. Malee Khow, who has taken the lead in the national wushu community over the last fifteen months in organizing tournaments, like the 2008 Nationals and 2008 Junior Team Trials, and managing the teams that competed at the 9th WWC and 7th Pan-American Wushu Championships (July 2007, in Brazil). Ms. Khow also helped the taolu athletes with preparations for competition. Mr. Tat Mau Wong, also Vice President of USAWKF, was the official team coach, working especially with the sanshou athletes and assisted by sanshou coach Mike Altman.
Wushu was not a medal event at the Olympics, so it got almost no media attention here in the U.S., but the teams competing at WTB 2008 were basically like any other Olympic team: they resided in apartments at the Olympic Village, along with teams from over two hundred countries; they ate in the same 24-hour cafeteria; they had similar levels of security; and so on. Wushu competitions were held at the Olympic Sports Centre a couple miles from the "Bird's Nest" Olympic Stadium, but in other respects the experience was like that of the U.S. swimming or gymnastics teams.
(left to right) Max Chen (sanshou), Sarah Ponce (sanshou), Tenyia Lee (taolu), Malee Khow (team leader), Rachel Margalit (taolu), Tat Mau Wong (team coach), Colvin Wang (taolu)
The competition at this tournament was fierce. Every athlete who was selected to compete at this tournament knew that it was a unique opportunity ? to compete at the Olympics against the very best of their peers. Only one hundred twenty-eight athletes competed, hailing from a total of forty-three countries. Fifty-five team officials were also present (the number of officials allotted to each country depended on the number of athletes who qualified and whether the athletes were all taolu, all sanshou, or a combination).
To the surprise of no one, China won each event in which they competed. The U.S. athletes were in a difficult position. Although they all did quite well at last year's world championships, they were amateur athletes competing against professional wushu competitors who train full-time. Nevertheless, all five U.S. athletes performed admirably, and USAWKF is proud of their accomplishments. Their full results are:
- Tenyia Lee: 6th place (out of 7) in women's straight sword and spear.
- Rachel Margalit: 7th place (out of 9) in women's southern boxing and southern broadsword.
- Colvin Wang: 5th place (out of 10) in men's straight sword & spear.
- Max Chen and Sarah Ponce lost in their respective first rounds.
At one point during the competitions, Ms. Khow did an interview with CCTV, the largest television station in China. Ms. Margalit also had the honor of being invited by CCTV to perform for a TV special. Other performers that night included wushu champions from China and other countries. The entire U.S. team was also interviewed by a U.S. television station during the Closing Ceremonies of the Olympics, which they had been invited to attend.
In many ways, Wushu Tournament Beijing 2008 was one of the most significant events in the recent history of wushu worldwide. The increasing visibility of Chinese wushu, and its undimmed hopes of becoming an official Olympic event, were all in play at the 2008 Olympic Games. With its association with the Olympics, WTB 2008 introduced this sport for the first time to more people than ever before. And while coverage by the news media here in the U.S. was not what many of us hoped for, we are confident that it has motivated thousands of wushu competitors around the world to train harder, and inspired many more to take up wushu for the first time.
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Written by Anthony Roberts for KUNGFUMAGAZINE.COM