London: A meeting with two former Olympians left me in no doubt about sports’ ability to unite people from two contrasting cultures and countries but who shared common Olympian ideals.
Britain’s Lionel Price and China’s Wu Chengzhang (aka Eddie) last met in 1948, when the city of London hosted its second Olympic Games. On Sunday the two were reunited after 64 years and, quite significantly, on the eve of Team GB’s basketball match against China.
Both are in their 80s but possess razor sharp memories. While expressing that he was overjoyed at meeting Lionel, Wu patiently explained through a translator that China were invincible during those Games and beat Team GB (54-25).
He then explained succinctly, “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.”
To which Lionel replied in his typical British manner: “Yes, I remember losing to China. In fact, we lost five out of our six games in those Olympics. But 64 years later, I am really overjoyed to meet Wu. He’s a lovely chap, though he is eight years older than me I might add.’’
Conditions in 1948 were different than the ones that prevail today in Britain, as far as sport is concerned, even though economically the situation is the same. “The 1948 Games really were the ‘Austerity Games’, recalled Lionel. “It cost Britain £750,000 to organise the Olympics and today it costs £9 billion to do that.
“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.”
Wu was visiting London after six decades: “We had 10 players in our team when we came here. Most of them have passed away, except me and my captain [who is 96-years-old]. I am still able to move around and so I decided to make the journey. I remember being at my physical peak in London. We played Chile, Belgium, the Philippines and Iraq. The BBC came to interview us after our game against Iraq because we had scored 100 points in that game.”
Then smiling mischievously at Lionel, Wu said, “I think I have brought luck to Team GB after my arrival. They won six gold medals yesterday. I would like the friendship between China and Great Britain to last forever.”
Both Olympians come from a generation where the ideals of sport were upheld no matter what the result. “The idea of the Olympic Games was always to take part and not entirely about winning,” endorsed Lionel. “I have been an Olympian all my life. I don’t understand why people break down after winning a silver medal, or a bronze. That’s not right. Winning any medal is a wonderful feeling.”
Wu, however, is comfortable espousing the presence of professionals in sport. “It is good to improve skills in sport so that people can come and watch disciplines of a high standard. It makes the Games more interesting for the audience – that is the strength of sport.”
On who would win Monday’s game between China and Team GB, Wu opined, “China have lost all their games here anyway so it doesn’t matter whether they win or not. Maybe Team GB will be victorious tomorrow,” it was an opinion that Lionel respected, but couldn’t quite agree with.
There were, however, many other things for these two friends to catch up on. Six decades of memories to revive but in their private space. Friendship through a translator.