Australian journalist understanding China on sports field
Australian journalist Tracey Holmes knows many Chinese athletes perhaps better than lots of Chinese people do.
A presenter with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation who worked as media information manager at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, the senior sports reporter has worked for 14 Olympic Games since 1992. She has also worked in China for about 10 years.
Sports events, she noted, could help forge people-to-people relationships, so as to build mutual understanding and trust, and help eliminate misunderstanding and suspicion.
In fact, Holmes has a strong connection with China.
Her paternal great-great-grandfather was a doctor of Chinese medicine surnamed Lin, who arrived in Australia from east China's Fujian Province in the 1850s. During the country's "Gold Rush", he treated Chinese gold miners in Australia, where he later settled down. He married a local woman and changed their children's surname to Holmes to avoid racial discrimination.
Tracey Holmes lived and worked in Hong Kong in the early 2000s, when she paid her first visit to the Chinese mainland.
"My husband was working for CNN and they asked him to go to Beijing to be the senior bureau correspondent there," Holmes said.
She could still recall vividly how she felt then. "From the moment I stepped off the plane, I strangely felt like I was at home," she said. "This is a normal city with the smells and the bustle and the energy, but I'd never been there before."
In retrospect, she described the visit as "a journey of exploration" when they looked for an apartment to live in, and schools to send their three sons to.
They also went to tourist attractions such as the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and Houhai Lake in central Beijing, where they skated when it froze in winter.
"I think what's amazing about all of these places is they're more than tourist destinations; they're full of history," said Holmes. "They're full of the most amazing stories. You could spend a lifetime in Beijing or in China and never know all of the stories. There's just so much to learn."
After moving to China, Holmes worked for China Central Television (CCTV) and China Global Television Network for several years.
She has interviewed many Chinese athletes, including hurdler Liu Xiang, tennis player Li Na, and Lang Ping, coach of China's national women's volleyball team known as the "Iron Hammer".
Holmes was impressed when she met former basketballer Yao Ming, who stands 2.26m tall. "I was looking up like that because he's so big," she laughed.
During the 2008 Beijing Olympics, she worked as an anchor with CCTV.
"Beijing was just incredible in 2008," she said. "The world was there for the first time and experiencing what Beijing had to offer."
She hailed the opening ceremony as "outstanding". "The running man ...running around with the torch to light the cauldron was so spectacular."
Talking about her working experience in China, she said: "I always feel very comfortable amongst the many friends that I've made while living in China, and I feel like I'm part of that group."
"We've shared so many great stories," she continued. "We've shared so many great meals. We've shared so many great laughs that it's a very special place in my heart."
Fourteen years later, Beijing became the host city again for the Olympic Games, becoming the first city to host both Olympic Summer and Winter Games.
Holmes' latest visit to China was earlier this year for the Beijing Winter Olympics. "When I flew in for the Beijing Winter Olympics, what struck me was, I was looking at the window and you're flying over Beijing for a long time because it's so big," she said.
Holmes noted that during the visit she saw the changes in Beijing, in terms of development and expansion. "But I could also see the landmarks that I recognized and it filled me with excitement. I couldn't wait to land. I wanted to walk through the back streets again. I wanted to eat in the tiny little street cafes. I wanted to see my friends again."
In spite of the COVID-19 pandemic, the broadcaster said that athletes "felt incredibly safe" during the Winter Olympics.
"In fact, from competing around the world in two years of COVID, it was the safest they had felt," she said.
However, the pandemic meant she was not able to walk outside the "Olympic bubble". Although she managed to meet some of her Chinese friends who were covering the sports gala as well, she believed that "there's nothing like walking the streets of the city and talking to the people from the city."
She stressed the importance of people-to-people relationships enhanced by sports events. "When athletes of the world come together, that helps create understanding to create a better world," she noted.
Holmes described the relationship between China and Australia saying "like all relationships, sometimes the road is rocky". But she remained optimistic about the future when the Australia-China relationship could emerge stronger together.
"Because despite our differences, together we share one planet. It is in both our interests to guarantee this planet's peaceful future," she added. "I hope sport continues to lead in that domain."