When Bao Chunlai led the Chinese contingent into the Khalifa
Stadium at the opening ceremony of the Doha Asian Games on Friday,
his handsome face, shinning smile and slim body elicited cheers
from Chinese people and journalists around the world.
"I thought the flag-bearer would be Liu Xiang or someone from
the basketball or volleyball team. But when Bao walked into the
stadium, I knew we had made the right choice. Whether because of
his appearance or his performance in the past year, he was the
right person to represent the Chinese delegation," said Liu Yinyu
of Worker's Daily.
"Height should not be the sole consideration anymore. It was a
good change. Though Bao is also over 190m, he looks handsome and
graceful," said Wei Cheng, a Chinese student who stayed up all
night to watch the opening ceremony on TV in Beijing, despite the
A veteran foreign journalist who knows a lot about the Chinese
sports scene also said the choice had come as a surprise, though a
"He's a good-looking guy. China has very good players in
volleyball and also in basketball. Some of them are very tall, but
he appears more impressive. I took some photos of him," said Gaber
A Abideen, a photographer for Al Etihad, a newspaper in Dubai, the
United Arab Emirates. Abideen has visited China twice.
Choi Un Leng from Macao Daily was also delighted to see
one of the world's best shuttlers bearing the flag.
"I have been covering badminton competitions for years. Bao is
always moderate and attractive. I think it was a good idea to have
a handsome and healthy-looking guy leading the nation's athletes,"
The conventional wisdom leading into the competition was that a
basketball player would act as flag-bearer. Due to the absence of
Houston Rockets superstar Yao Ming, another centre, Yi Jianlian,
was rumoured to be the favourite for the spot.
In the past eight Asian Games, Zhou Chongyu was the only
non-basketball player to lead the Chinese contingent. That was
during the 1978 Asian Games in Bangkok, Thailand.
All the flag-bearers in China's Asian Games history have been
The decision to have Bao lead the Chinese team came as a big
surprise to the 23-year-old world No 2.
"It was a great honour. I did not expect to bear the flag before
coming to Doha," he said.
Still Bao rejected the idea that his appearance had anything to
with the choice.
"I do not think it was because of my face. I think it was out of
recognition of my hard work in the past year," he said.
Eyes on Games title
Bao, a low-profile star on the national team, has long lived in the
shadow of world No 1 icon Lin Dan.
But the 23-year-old has come on strong this year, clinching a
string of victories.
In August, Bao was crowned at the Korea Open after beating such
masters as South Korean Lee Hyun Il and Malaysian Roslin Hashim,
ending a nearly five-year world title drought in the singles
Later, at the Madrid World Championships, Bao defeated Malaysian
top player Lee Chong Wei, whom he had never beaten before, in the
quarter-finals and then rushed into the final against Lin.
Despite losing to Lin in the final in Madrid, Bao scored revenge
in the semi-finals at the China Open in October, his first win
since August of 2004.
With his confidence in top form, Bao said he is in good shape
and is prepared to face down new challenges.
According to the draw, Bao might lock horns with Indonesian
Olympic champion Taufik Hidayat in the quarter-finals, and then
challenge world No 2 Lee Chong Wei from Malaysia in the semis.
If he makes it that far, he will likely find himself in a
showdown with top-seeded team-mate Lin in the men's singles final
on Dec 9.
"I'm really in form," said Bao. "When I learned I might
challenge many powerful rivals in the men's singles competition in
Doha, I felt nothing special. I have prepared well and am ready to
tackle any hardships. "
Bao will enjoy a first-round bye at Asiad and is slated to take
on the winner of the match between Ronald Susilo from Singapore and
Tarek Shalhoum from Sri Lanka in the second round.
(China Daily December 4, 2006)