Every four years, anyone who visits my home on a summer evening could peer into my window and see me glued to the television watching the competitions of the Olympic Games. I love rooting for everyone in red, white and blue. Usually, it's all about who is fastest, makes the least splash or really sticks the landing. But, as I've watched the pre-coverage and coverage of the Beijing games, I've realized they matter much more than simply as a testament to athletic prowess.
Watching the opening ceremonies last Friday, my jaw began to hurt because my mouth had been gaping since the beginning of the show. The history of China put to music with such beautiful artistry and execution brought tears to my eyes. This was unprecedented; I only cry when the "Star Spangled Banner" is playing.
If you haven't been watching the Olympics on television or following them online, then you've missed the spectacular buildings raised by a just small portion of the 803 million workers that comprise the Chinese labor force. For the most part host cities take old buildings and retrofit them to handle the capacity of the games' viewers and athletes - not in Beijing. The center of the city was remodeled in four short years to accommodate the most dazzling Olympics in recent memory.
Looking at incredible structures such as the Bird's Nest and the Water Cube and seeing the determination on the faces of the Chinese athletes before delivering a gold medal performance, I realized that ability and drive carries over into other aspects of their culture - not just sports.
Anyone who thinks China is not fast becoming the dominant world super-power of the 21st Century has been ignoring the news and research generated during the past 30 years as China has focused on a market-based economy. Coupled with the largest population on earth, the Chinese economy has boomed. The Chinese Gross Domestic Product real growth rate of 11.4 percent (according the CIA World Fact Book) dwarfs that of the USA at 2.2 percent as does the Chinese industrial production growth rate of 13.4 percent compared to ours of .5 percent.
Many may argue that these high growth rates are because China is building an economy out of essentially what was a heap of earth, but that doesn't mean we - and I mean everyone, not just elected officials - can just sit on our laurels.
Citizens need to encourage their elected officials to work toward decreasing the giant public debt this country has accumulated. China's public debt is a mere 18.4 percent of their GDP - America's is 60.4 percent. We can't afford to slide further and further into debt like an irresponsible college student addicted to electronics. What happens when our credit line runs out?
According to the American Institutes for Research, Asian eighth grade students substantially outperform our students in science and math. Sure, we can win every gold medal in swimming, but can we win the race to find a cure for deadly illnesses or suit nanotechnology for more practical use? If we don't train young minds to be innovative and equip them with the tools to execute their ideas, then we can't compete globally.
I guess the Olympics have reminded me that while America is a world superpower, it may not stay that way forever. Imagine an Olympic race and the number of factors that determine who brings home the hardware. I think if Americans felt as much pride in improving our economy and our education system as we do when the "Dream Team" takes the court or when a freckle-faced teenager lands a perfect dismount, then we will continue to remain in healthy competition with China. Striving for excellence begets excellence.
Imagine an athlete standing on the tallest podium, hand over heart as the crowd helps him sing his national anthem.
Jennifer Long is the managing editor of The Covington News.