Now, there's a gold standard. Imagine that guy running a sports franchise in our town.
Every Chinese citizen with a television knows that his or her country is dominating the gold-medal count, with 39 as of last night. The United States was second with 22, but led the overall medal count with 72.
The overall count doesn't mean much here, though. China has only 14 silver and 14 bronze medals, the only one of the top 10 medal-winning countries to have more gold than silver and bronze combined.
Any sport can add to China's Olympic glory. A gold medal in fencing earned the front-page headline and photo in the China Daily's Olympic coverage last week.
The pressure on Chinese athletes is in the air, more visible than the smog. Early in the Games, a Chinese shooter, Zhu Quinan, rose from third to second with his last shot in the 10-meter air-rifle event. At the medal ceremony, the Finnish shooter who slipped to third with a horrible final shot still smiled at his bronze. Zhu wept at his silver. Then he wept uncontrollably at his news conference.
"I don't know what's going on," Zhu said. "My mind's going blank."
Zhu had been the favorite, one of four Chinese shooters who had won gold at the Athens Games. The night of his performance here, his event was replayed on CCTV1, in its entirety, in the equivalent of NBC's prime-time coverage.
This part is a little different from Philadelphia: Throughout the coverage, there wasn't any visible anger toward Zhu. CCTV1's coverage made it clear this was more like a national tragedy. A roundtable discussion of the event left two panel members in tears. To a piano accompaniment, Zhu's career was revisited, from his youth through the day's events. Then a Chinese pop singer came out and sang a ballad. A huge framed photo of Zhu was brought out by two women wearing evening gowns. Zhu did not appear.
Being the favorite hadn't been easy, Zhu had conceded during his news conference. "For a long time, I got very depressed with anxious and complex feelings," he said.
At venue after venue, Chinese athletes have displayed over-the-top emotions at winning gold, a visible release from all the pressure.
Yang Wei was ecstatic Thursday after finally winning the men's all-around gymnastic title. He was second at the 2000 Olympics and the 2003 world championships, thus dismissed as a "silver collector." Yang turned around and described his countrywoman's Cheng Fei's bronze in the vault as "a failure" she hopefully could learn from next time.
Susan Brownell, a University of Missouri-St. Louis professor and author of the book Beijing's Games: What the Olympics Mean to China, wondered whether the gold emphasis wasn't based on a fluke.
"They probably took the IOC Web site as the closest thing," Brownell said, referring to the International Olympic Committee. "On that, you will find countries listed by order by gold-medal total and not the total."
That was good enough for China's former director of sports.
"I think the old director came out of the military system," Brownell said. "He was really good at what he did. He got it into marching order. They're still aiming for the most gold medals, but the overall atmosphere has changed in the past four years. They're catching up with world trends, with less of a military influence.
"They use modern sports psychology rather than political thinking [that said], 'Let's win glory for the nation.' Now, individualism is not only allowed, it is encouraged. They recognize the audience really likes it. Earrings, funky hairstyles . . ."
But the system is set up for winners. Financial bonuses from various sources are awarded for gold medals, Brownell said, with larger bonuses in the most prestigious sports, including table tennis. And it's not just the athletes who stand to benefit - or suffer, if the athlete falters. Coaches and local sports chiefs, even past coaches from the athletes' hometowns, get bonuses. Most athletes can endorse products, but are considered "state-owned assets," sharing their revenue with local and national authorities.
No Chinese athlete faced more pressure than Liu Xiang, who thrilled the nation and became a national hero by winning the 110-meter high hurdles in Athens. China had struggled in track and field, so Liu's victory in the high-profile event allowed Chinese to dream of more success when the world's best - and 91,000 fans - arrived at the Bird's Nest for this year's Olympic track program.
But Liu could not run yesterday in the first-round heats. In the hours before, his coach had said on Liu's Web site that Liu had an inflamed Achilles tendon. Liu held the back of his leg and grimaced as he got in the blocks. When the race was stopped because of a false start unrelated to Liu, Liu ripped off the number on his shirt and withdrew.
Fans left the Bird's Nest in tears. Feng Shuyong, the head coach of the Chinese track and field team, relayed this quote from Liu, that "he would never give up as long as he can run."
But running if he wasn't at his best wouldn't have served his country. Not this country, with these expectations.
That first shooting event indicated the tone of coverage and the pressure for gold. A television anchor's first words about Zhu's silver-medal-winning performance: "He failed to win gold."
An Olympic volunteer, translating the words for an American, hadn't known the results of the 10-meter air-rifle competition. The Chinese volunteer summed it up: "Aaah, silver is a pity."
Contact staff writer Mike Jensen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
While the United States continues to lead in overall medals, the Chinese are racking up the gold at nearly twice the clip. Here's the golden breakdown through Monday's finals: