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Wu Chengzhang shows a picture from his trip to London as a member of the Chinese Olympic basketball team in 1948. Provided to China Daily
Instead of gluing himself to the television set in his Shanghai apartment for the Olympic basketball games, 88-year-old Wu Chengzhang was fortunate enough to be invited to London for the game between the United Kingdom and China on Monday.
Although China lost to Britain, 90-58, and was knocked out of the tournament, Wu's journey was special.
It was his second trip to London in 64 years. Last time, he represented China on the court.
When Wu arrived on Friday, he found the city had changed.
"I went to the London Bridge again and noticed there were many new buildings on both sides of the bridge," he said.
"London is more beautiful and developed.
"I think I brought luck to Team GB with my arrival. They won six gold medals on Saturday ... I would like the friendship between China and Great Britain to last forever."
Wu is one of two living Chinese athletes who competed at the 14th Olympic Games in London in 1948. The other, 96-year-old Li Zhenzhong, also lives in Shanghai.
Wu never dreamed he would return more than half a century later. "I was only 24 when I came to London for the Olympics - it was a player's highest honor to represent his country and attend the Games, not to mention it was only China's third time sending athletes (to the Olympics)," he said at the airport in Shanghai.
On Sunday, Wu met Britain's Lionel Price, 85, who played on the British team in 1948.
"There is a Chinese saying that when you have a friend and come from far away to meet him, it can be the most pleasant moment," Wu said.
China defeated Britain, 54-25, in that game.
"Yes, I remember losing to China. In fact, we lost five out of our six games in that Olympics. But 64 years later, I am really overjoyed to meet Wu. He's a lovely chap," Price said with smile.
"The 1948 Games really were the Austerity Games.
"I remember the Chinese were even better kitted out than we were. We had one team vest, one pair of shorts, one tracksuit and one blazer. I swapped my berry for a magnificent Panama hat worn by an American swimmer. We paid for everything else."
China finished 18th.
The Olympics that Wu attended 64 years ago was a far cry from today's Games. For him, they were not only filled with honor, but also regret and humiliation.
China sent 33 athletes to the 1948 London Games to compete in basketball, soccer, track and field, swimming and biking. The Kuomintang government in power at the time was teetering, and the funding for the Chinese Olympic delegation was limited.
"We didn't have enough money, so the basketball team had to raise money by playing games in Shanghai, Hong Kong and even Southeast Asia," he said, adding that the government didn't show the kind of support it does today.
Few greeted the Chinese athletes at London's airport. Their flag-raising ceremony was also unimpressive, in sharp contrast to the ones of many other countries, such as the US, Wu said.
Unable to afford the high fee, the Chinese delegation stayed at the Olympic Village for only two days before moving to a vocational school in the suburbs, eating rice, vegetables and pickles shipped from China to cut costs.
"We had to cook for ourselves," Wu said.
Wu remembers every game his team played in the qualifiers against Chile, Belgium, South Korea, the Philippines and Iraq. To him, the last game with Iraq, in which he scored 32 points, seems like a victory that happened only yesterday.
"We beat Iraq 125-25 and we all believed that we would qualify for the next round with such a win. China had three wins and two defeats," he said.
But China was eliminated because coaches and officials had not fully understood the rules. The win against Iraq didn't count under the regulations. The two teams that qualified - South Korea and Belgium - lost to China in the qualifiers.
"It would have been a totally different result if it was better organized," he said.
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(China Daily 08/08/2012 page11)