|Choeyang Kyi on the podium after the 20-kilometer walk race|
The Chinese supporters on the road in front of the Queen's Palace were heard shouting “Jia You!” while many Tibetans encouraged her, “Gyuk!” (“Go on!” in their respective language).
Both groups had their flags, the red one of the People's Republic of China, under which Choeyang participated and the one with the snow lions of the Tibetan supporters.
The Dalai Lama has thus described his philosophy for the future status of Tibet:
The Tibetan people do not accept the present status of Tibet under the People's Republic of China. At the same time, they do not seek independence for Tibet, which is a historical fact. Treading a middle path in between these two lies the policy and means to achieve a genuine autonomy for all Tibetans living in the three traditional provinces of Tibet within the framework of the People's Republic of China. This is called the Middle-Way Approach, a non-partisan and moderate position that safeguards the vital interests of all concerned parties-for Tibetans: the protection and preservation of their culture, religion and national identity; for the Chinese: the security and territorial integrity of the motherland; and for neighbours and other third parties: peaceful borders and international relations.
In London, they appeared to be on a different wave-length.
The bronze-medal earner kept very quiet during the Press Conference.
One can understand.
Regarding the flag, I have already mentioned about Mao's remarks on the Tibetan flag on this blog. In the mind of the Great Helmsman, it is not incompatible to have two flags (the red one and the snow-lion one flying together) flying together (Kashmir has also 2 flags after all, why not Tibet?).
For the rest, it is more complicated, much more complicated.
It looks like the Chinese government was testing the waters; for the first time, they brought a Tibetan athlete to the Games to see if the situation is controllable in a foreign arena, especially after the series of self-immolation in Eastern Tibet.
Choeyang Kyi must have had harder times during the Press Conference than during the race. But she should be congratulated to have managed well in both.
The dilemma of the Middle-Way appears to be: was Choeyang Kyi a Chinese runner or a Tibetan one?
Can she be both?
Not sure for the Tibetans supporters. One of them told the AP reporter: "As an individual, we are proud of her, but that she is representing China, I’m not happy."
But it is what the Middle-way is about, isn't it?
This does not pose a problem for Mary Kom, who can be an Indian and a Manipuri at the same time; it poses a serious dilemma in Communist China.
Thanks God India is not China, though the China's tally is fuller than India's.
In the meantime, let us hope that Choeyang Kyi will trigger new vocations in Dharamsala (and why not amongst the well-trained Tibetan Special Frontier Forces).
Unfortunately, the dynamic Tibetan Prime Minister, Dr Lobsang Sangye does not seem to have a sports policy.
A great pity!
LONDON — On any other day and in any other situation, the Tibetan exiles who gathered excitedly in groups next to Buckingham Palace would never have come to cheer for an athlete wearing the colors of China, a country they regard as their oppressor, a country that invaded and has governed their Himalayan homeland with an iron fist for six decades.
But this was exceptional. Because, apparently for the first time at an Olympics, the athlete was one of them, a Tibetan.
Standing apart but, just this once, both wanting the same thing, groups of Chinese supporters shouted “Jia You!” while the Tibetans yelled “Gyuk!” — both meaning, “Go on!”
The Chinese waved their red flags. The Tibetans waved the flag of Tibet that is banned in China, with a bright yellow sun rising over a snow-clad mountain. They could hear and see each other, but they studiously ignored each other, too.
The athlete — Qieyang Shenjie to the Chinese, Choeyang Kyi for the Tibetans — could hear the yells of encouragement. But she kept her head down and concentrated on not putting a foot wrong. It seemed a fitting metaphor for a Tibetan competing for China, one smart enough not to get sucked into the politics that have swirled around her Olympic participation.
Not only did Qieyang make history for Tibetans, she won a medal, too — bronze in the women’s 20-kilometer race walk Saturday. She beamed when she crossed the finish line, a picture of delight. If she felt discomfort at all as a Tibetan in Chinese colors, she didn’t show it.
“I’m extremely honored to take part as the first representative of the Tibetans at the Olympic Games and to win a medal,” she said.
She said she heard Tibetans encouraging her along the route that went past the residence of Queen Elizabeth II.
“I heard it! Really. I heard a Tibetan cheering me on. At the time, I looked backward but couldn’t see who that person was,” she said.
But she looked alarmed when asked if she saw the Tibetan flags, shaking her head and refusing to answer.
Because Tibet is ruled by China, it does not have its own team or athletes at the Olympics or other international competitions, like the football World Cup. So, for Tibetans, this was the first time they’d been able to cheer on one of their own. But it also was a shock to some of them to see Qieyang striding past them in Chinese red.
“Am I really cheering for Tibet or China?” wondered Ugyen Choephell, who said his parents fled Tibet in the 1960s to India, where he was born.
Still, he yelled “Choeyang Gyuk!” and was thrilled when she went past.
“Great, really. Very emotional,” he said. “History in the making.”
If there was another Tibetan at previous Olympics, history has forgotten them. In China, the government-run Xinhua News Agency and other media said Qieyang was the first Tibetan to make a Chinese Olympic team.
Olympic historian Bill Mallon said Tibet has never fielded an Olympic team and that he and other Olympic experts he consulted weren’t aware of any previous Tibetan Olympian. The Tibetan government in exile in India said likewise.
“As an individual, we wish her well,” said Dicki Choyang, the exiled administration’s minister for information and international relations. “She must have put in a lot of effort to reach there. But we are sad that she cannot represent a free Tibet.”
“China uses things like this for their political gain. The fact that a Tibetan is participating in the Olympics does not take away anything from the dire situation prevailing inside Tibet,” Choyang added.
Qieyang, 21, said she was born in what is now the Chinese province of Qinghai and that her family are Tibetan herders, although she was stumped when asked how many animals they have.
“I can’t remember. I haven’t been home for many years,” she said.
She seemed something of a curiosity to reporters from China who peppered her with questions after the race, won by Russian Elena Lashmanova. They asked Qieyang for a Tibetan song. She refused.
She told them her Tibetan name means “the sun,” that she started running as a kid, that she said a Buddhist prayer before the race and that her family isn’t well off.
On the blog she keeps, Qieyang said she was sworn in as a member of China’s ruling Communist Party in July before coming to London to compete. “Will be making a swear-in speech. A bit excited and a bit nervous,” she wrote.
That drew a range of responses from other Chinese bloggers, from those who called her “disgusting” and questioning why she wanted “to join the world’s biggest mafia?” and was “boarding the wrong boat” to others who wrote “congrats,” ‘’impressive,” ‘’very good.”
She sounded embarrassed when asked why she joined — again, clearly trying not to put a foot wrong.
“Why? I ... I ... How to say? It’s all good,” she said.
If Qieyang was keeping her real feelings to herself — and it was impossible to know — Tibetans who turned out in support found it hard to believe that she might be happy competing for China, even though she certainly seemed to be.
“For her, I can understand it’s a difficult situation. I imagine that the Chinese have given her threats of all sorts. I would think she is brainwashed or forced to do this. There’s not much choice for Tibetans in Tibet,” said Yangchen Kikhang, a Tibetan born in India.
“As an individual, we are proud of her, but that she is representing China, I’m not happy,” she said.
Still, she cheered Qieyang and consoled herself with this thought.
“Inside her head,” she said, “she probably thinks she is Tibetan.”
Associated Press writers Ashwini Bhatia and Didi Tang contributed.
John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.