sharing the Olympic spirit
OLYMPICS/ self introduction

Dream a little dream
By Matt Hodges (China Daily/Olympian)
Updated: 2007-11-01 23:07


Yury Ilyakin felt joy then a numbing sense of trepidation at 10 pm on October 14, the last day of voting for Lenovo's eight expatriate Olympic torchbearers, as his vote count spiraled beyond the realm of credibility, then kept on rising.

"The joy was replaced by hesitation, then by horror when I realized that one of my 'fans' had used a robot (computer virus) to collect votes for me. It was a terrible feeling," said the Beijing-based Russian businessman.

Already in the top 20 with only hours to go before the vote window closed, his heart sank at the discovery of the misguided saboteur.

"I wrote a letter to China Daily the next day asking to delete those 'instant' votes, or to delete my name from the list. I wanted to win, but not by any means," he said. "It was a hard letter to write."

Ilyakin's story is a refreshing reminder in these dark days of Olympic doping that fair play matters. Instead of hobbling his campaign with his honesty, the votes were recounted and Ilyakin, whose company Hand to Hand pioneered the use of free ads for the Chinese public in 1999, came in at number seven with 6,751.

In contrast, overall winner Jenny Bowen of San Francisco (14,188) had no time to worry about her votes. She was too busy managing Half The Sky, the China-based foundation that has helped thousands of orphaned children living in welfare institutions.

"Simply no time for hobbies," she wrote in a hurried email to China Daily from Hong Kong. "My work with HTS consumes just about every waking hour."

Her story, and the strength of the children she helps, inspired the online community to put her in pole position.

"I sent out two emails to our supporters during the campaign," she said. "And in the last few days, I put a link on our website. That's it. Our supporters did the rest…it took my breath away, really. So many people rallied together."

Ten years ago, Bowen could not have imagined living and working in China. Now, thanks to the cooperation of the Chinese government, her whole life has changed.

She said her single best experience here was adopting her first Chinese daughter.

"From her I learned almost everything I know about the strength and resilience of children. I learned that there is hope for every child, and that amazing things reside inside each of us. We all just need a chance."

Luis Hong Sanchez of Colombia could not agree more. The soccer-mad star pupil of Xiangzhou district in Zhuhai, Guangdong Province, has been living in China since he was four months old. He has seen first-hand how different cultures can complement one another rather than collide.

Even though he remembers the finger-pointing days at school where he was the strangely colored "laowai," he earned his place as a torchbearer with the combined backing of his local community, his extended overseas family and the Colombian media.

"I want to be a bridge from East to West," said the 14-year-old. "China is the country of the future, and the future starts now. If people have a better understanding of each other, the world will advance faster."

Cultural misunderstandings are rife, he said, but the Beijing Games will set things straight.

"Many of my friends in Colombia think China has few cars, everybody knows Kung Fu and people are not free. They think the Chinese are so skinny because it's so difficult to eat with chopsticks.

"I mean, when we first moved to Zhuhai nine years ago the streets were almost empty, but now cars are everywhere. Many of my classmates have moved to bigger houses and now people are more curious and open minded."

Now it is time for the rest of the world to play catch-up and shed their old-fashioned stereotypes of China, said second-placed Marcos Torres of the Philippines, who will be the first Filipino to hold the torch since the 1964 Tokyo Games.

"To a person who has never been here, China is a sleeping dragon shrouded in mystery, where every move one makes is under the watchful eye of the government," said Torres, a marketing manager for design firm M Moser Associates.

"That is why it is such a jaw-dropping experience to come here. The Chinese are the most fun-loving people I know, and everything changes so quickly. I leave Beijing for a week, a new bar opens. I'm gone for a week, a new mall opens. I'm gone for a few months, and a new subway line has been constructed."

Torres, who helped his Junior Chamber (Jaycees) of the Philippines-Katipunan chapter win Best New Chapter in Asia and the World in his role as director, described his year in China as a profoundly moving experience.

Having what felt like the whole of the Philippines rally to his cause online felt the same way, and for him encapsulates the message of togetherness that the Olympics aims to promote.

"How can you not be moved when people tell you that you have united the country for them, that they will name their first-born after you, and that they are proud of you, win or lose," he said. "It's overwhelming."

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