Li Ning lights China’s Olympic flame


Chinese retailer Li Ning (李宁) is the biggest winner of the 2008 Beijing Olympics so far, after its founder and chairman – whose name the company bears – lit the cauldron at the final act of last night’s opening ceremony.

Li was a fantastic choice, and one that embodies China at this point in time. A young man from Guangxi, one of China’s less affluent provinces, and a member of the Zhuang, one of China’s ethnic minorities, Li joined the country’s first-ever Olympic team and came back from the 1984 Games with 6 medals. In 1990, as China was struggling with economic downturn and international boycotts, he went on to start a retail business bearing his name.

Today, Li Ning is a publicly traded company and China’s largest sports retailer. The company is not an official sponsor of the 2008 Beijing Olympics – it was probably not big enough when sponsors were considered – but was largely affiliated with the games all along.

Li Ning is also peculiarly Chinese in another way: Its logo is a V-like stroke, suspiciously similar to Nike’s “Swoosh”, and is accompanied by the slogan “Anything is possible”, which is reminiscent of Adidas’s “Impossible is nothing” (we’re still not sure which one came first. Let us know in the comments) .

Adidas, which paid tens of millions to become one of the major sponsors of the Beijing Olympics, learned last night that in China, anything is indeed possible. Watching their main Chinese competitor featured in the grand finale of the most watched event in History, I am sure the German brand’s managers were not too happy. At least Li Ning was wearing the official Beijing 2008 Adidas outfit while lighting the torch. We’re not sure about the shoes though.

It was a fitting finish for an opening ceremony that may have not been to everyone’s liking, but carried one strong message from beginning to end: We are China, we’ve been around for ages, and we do things our way.

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