Kazakhstan and China Continue Olympian Tug of War
Round one went to Kazakhstan.
Since July, Astana and Beijing have engaged in an emotional rivalry over Olympic gold medalist Zulfiya Chinshanlo. During the London games, Chinese media were adamant that the weightlifter was about to return to the People’s Republic, claiming that Chinshanlo was born Zhao Changling in a remote mountainous area of Hunan Province and had been loaned to Kazakhstan in 2008 for a five-year period.
But Chinshanlo told Kazakh press after earning Kazakhstan a gold that she was committed to the Central Asian republic. Moreover, Chinshanlo’s biography on the official Web page for the 2012 Olympic Games lists her birthplace as Almaty. (Others report she was born in Kyrgyzstan.)
Now Chinese media have quoted her saying she’s returning to China.
China Radio International's English website reported on October 24 that the champion weightlifter was spotted in Hunan applying for papers to return to China.
She had a different story to tell Kazakh media, however, claiming on October 26 she was merely paying a visit to her former coach in Yongzhou, Hunan, where a Caravan.kz article says she took up weightlifting as an 11-year-old.
The loan of Chinshanlo has been likened to the so-called "Wolf-Rearing Plan," a China-led initiative wherein Beijing loaned out some of its table tennis players to help develop the sport in other countries and create more competition in the future.
Whether Chinshanlo is a wolf in disguise, or a stray wolf being lured back to the mother den, or not a wolf at all, something about her story doesn’t add up.
Paul Bartlett is a journalist based in Almaty.