2008 Beijing Olympic Games

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.

There are currently 64 Comments for Li Ning lights China's Olympic flame.

Comments on Li Ning lights China's Olympic flame

The best advertising that money can't buy. 4 billion people now know the name Li Ning

Did anybody else see the banner that Senegal's Olympic team held up during the "Parade of Nations"? It was written in French and NBC cameras quickly switched to the Serbian tennis players before I could try reading it. There appears to be no mention of Senegal's banner in international media so far.

er, as far as I remember, Li Ning got the slogan 'anything is possible' waaaayyyyyy earlier than Adidas' impossible is nothing (which I think is launched very recently before Olympics). It is not always Chinese brand copying western's. or maybe I was wrong. but would you check before making that statement? To me it's just presumption and prejudice.

Li Ning: 李宁
It would be nice to include the Chinese characters of individual's names, for reference. It could save people a lot of trouble trying to find their names (Li Ning's was easy, but some are more obscure, of course).

Yes. We are China. We've been around for ages. We do things our way. No matter how you understand these words in which way.

@Anonymous: Thanks for the note. I edited the article accordingly. To my knowledge, Li Ning started using "Anything is possible" in 2004. Any idea when Adidas started using "Impossible is nothing?"

@Klortho: Added. Thanks.

Adidas impossible is nothing was first used in 2004.

Feb 2004 to be precise. "Anything is possible" is a really weak counter to it. It sounds like the LiNing product is so unreliable that it could fall apart at any time.


A global brand like adidas require an ORIGINAL theme on which to base 4 years of advertising with a total spend in the billions of dollars. The idea that they would copy Li Ning for their core concept is laughable. Copying or being inspired by one or two ads, products or photo shoots will of course happen- its a race after all.

@AndrewC: Laughable, but possible. In any case, I just found a release by Li Ning stating that "Anything is possible" was launched in April 2004. "Impossible is nothing" came out two months earlier.

Ambush marketing defined.

Li Ning (was he wearing Li Nings?) just hit the global stage for free, and I am sure the Adidas team will be asking IOC just GFW happened on that one.


@AllRoads: He was.

What a bust for Adidas. Li ning will probably use this to start building their brand globally, which they've been trying to do for a while.

I like that you included Li Ning's Chinese name above. Reuters includes English names of non-Chinese in their Chinese articles, which is very helpful.

Please remember that before Li Ning become a brand, he is a sportsman.


I was sat right in front of the place where the Senegal team unfurled their banner. However my view of most of it was obscured by the African band which was on a platform at the edge of the track.

However I could read the first line which said "Amitie d'abord" which I believe means "friendship above all". The couple of lines below that I couldn't see before it was hurriedly pounced on by some marshalls.

hey, about the Senegal sign (I have it on DVR) it says Unite Darfur on the top and I can't read the bottom line. Looks like competition, but that don't make no sense.

And as the resident Danwei hater, I have to say I thought the opening ceremony was pretty cool. Humanity is beautiful.

Hey, I'm sorry. It doesn't say unite Darfur. It's something I can't read, but definitely does not say unite Darfur.

I don't know what the fuss is. I doubt most foreigner know of the Li Ning brand of shoes let alone the man, and I doubt they'll remember who lit the torch and make the association. Most Chinese already know who he is and the company he started and so this isn't really a marketing boost. Besides, is not like he showed a prominent Logo of his company and I don't recall his name being mentioned publicly at the ceremony. I don't see what Adidas should fuss about.

@Tony: You can run a simple Google News search, and then a Google Blogs search to get a small taste of the coverage Li Ning received during the last 24 hours. This is before taking into account the numerous times his dramatic flight with the torch will be broadcast and replayed online and on TV, not just in the coming weeks, but whenever the story of China's first Olympics will be told.

In the Chinese market, many may have already known who he is, but now EVERYONE does.

Internationally, this provides the company with a springboard for further expansion, but it is up to them to manage this opportunity properly and make the most of it.

Last night's stunt positions him as one of the key symbols of the new China, and will gain him and his company plenty of exposure and "story angles" in the future. You can expect the meme about the young communist champion who became a millionaire to be repeated again and again.

In any case, to follow your logic - everyone in the world and in China already know Adidas. So why did they have to pay so much for the right to show the Olympic logo next to theirs?

This morning, there are tens, perhaps hundred, of millions of new consumers who are familiar with the name Li Ning. Not a bad accomplishment for a free advertising deal.

(Plus... it got him a mention on Danwei!)

The torch lighting was lame. Really lame. A perfect example of what it means to be "to clever by half." Li Ning fake-running around the rim of the stadium was a ridiculous spectacle.

Generally speaking, I found the opening ceremony to be a let down, as did nearly everyone I watched it with (7 Chinese people). I can't speak for those who were in attendance, but it didn't work well on television. At the very least, more attention should have been paid to the technical demands of filming such an enormous display. Confusing at times, and very, very conventional. Thumbs down.

Hi guys - me as a younger generation from Beijing, have enjoyed the grand show, because I know how different it was from how it'd have been 20 or even 10 years ago. What let me down was the uniform of the Chinese delegation... not much different from 1984 LA Olympics, from design point of view.
By the way, for Chinese, we all know what the name Li Ning means, much more than just a commercial success. He won 3 gold and some silver and bronze, at one single Olympics event, in 1984. 24 YEARS AGO!!! He absolutely deserved to be the very person to light up the Olympics flame in Beijing. Plus, I'm so glad to see he's as fit and strong!

Tony - you obviously have no idea how marketing works - not that I really care (fun to see major corporations get the shaft), but don't expect Adidas, or Nike for that matter, to take it lying down should Li Ning try and expand internationally...

Opening ceremony itself was visually stunning (and have to completely agree with Ma Bole, when the cameras were positioned right, and the cut-aways managed correctly - which was few and far between), with incredibly tight choreography, however they were surprisingly boring - my Chinese wife, her mother and my impression. They just jammed together a bunch of Chinese 'themes' with no real thought about the flow or story line to tie it all together. Still enjoyed it though, but won't watch highlights...

The Li Ning "impossible is nothing" tag actually pre-dates Adidas' copy "Anything is nothing".

"Li was a fantastic choice, and one that embodies China at this point in time" - which China?, and which time? Li Ning is how "we" imagine China to be rather than what it is in reality.

@Anonymous: Can you back it up with a link? I tried to find some info and the earliest evidence I have of its use is April 2004, two months after Adidas's "Impossible is nothing".

How many knew Li Ning is actually already the sponsor of Spanish basketball team (and a few other foreign teams, can't remember all) - watch the basketball match for backup. Anyway, this is not a marketing forum, is it? If yes, I'm in the wrong place.
If we ask 1% of Chinese what and how much they understood of the ceremony, it'd interesting to hear what they have to say. Without some basic knowledge and understanding of Chinese history and culture, it's very likely to get bored (watching the ceremonies). Even so, I guess we all can say I (dis)liked it, more or less, maybe not it was so and so... ?

Well,how can these Chinese rednecks do this to us with such a dazzling openning ceremony?

tony: the fact is Li Ning's name is now tightly linked with the Olympics, especially in the minds of chinese consumers. that is exactly what adidas has been paying up to $US100 million for. good on Li for wearing his own brand sneakers.

as for opening ceremony. all a bit zhang yimou (of late). technically flawless. visually interesting. and completely lacking in emotion/raw power. hate to say it but could have done with a bit of spielberg sentimentality. whatever happened to him?

in three words: nice but dull.

That's the first I've read/know of people who were not impressed by the opening ceremony and find it meaningless. It was obviously a theme of contrast aggressive/vigorous vs. delicate/gentle, history vs. the present, the effort of the individual vs. the many, etc. So shooting an arrow to light the torch impresses you then, or do you prefer them to just waddle up to the big torch set on a fancy podium? Art form is indeed very subjective, but to belittle the amount of effort and training the participants went through just because it's not to your person taste is just plain insensitive and ignorant.

@ Mike: Speilburg's sentimentality "bent the knee" to Mia Farrow's catharis. Hence, no more Indy IV, etc. in the Motherland ....

To everyone who commented about my comment, I stand corrected. I was speaking from a Chinese perspective rather than from a commercial perspective.

Yes, from a marketing perspective Adidas probably got shafted, (while not a marketing major, I do have a business degree in IT). However, what I was trying to say was that, at that moment, he was Li Ning, the athlete who epitomizes China's foray into the Olympics, and not Li Ning, the President, CEO, and founder of Li Ning the sports apparel company.

I don't believe that the night of the ceremony the audience made the connection, at least I didn't. Now as far as how they use this to advance their position in their market segment is a different story.

So maybe it's too early to be critical of this whole brouhaha? Perhaps we should wait until the image of him lighting the flame appears in their advertisements before we criticize? Just a thought.

Li NIng already outfits the Spanish delegation in the openning ceremony.

The show was fantstic, although I agree the CCTV made it look less stunning that it was.

>>as for opening ceremony. all a bit zhang yimou (of late). technically flawless. visually interesting. and completely lacking in emotion/raw power. hate to say it but could have done with a bit of spielberg sentimentality. whatever happened to him?

I would have to disagree with this comment, as I believe zhang yimou can do (and did, in this case) a much better job of evoking emotions than spielberg on this grand a scale. The final run of the torch by li ning was probably one of the most amazing, artistic, and moving human performance I've ever witnessed. It was like a dream sequence brought to life, punctuated by a very poignant children's choir performance... at just the perfect tempo to match the slow motion running. I mean, the only thing I could imagine that would have made it a perfect story of human achievement and accomplishment was if li ning got younger as he circumnavigated the roof-line, and ended at the final torch a young child... the embodiment of truth and innocence in mankind, and hope for the future. Of course, that's totally impossible except in a true dream, so what zhang yimou gave us was as close as we can get.

And it's funny to see people arguing about the exposure li ning's company received from his run. I wonder if people would have felt any different if his company didn't share his name.

Ma Bole,

Of course it was a letdown, the 臭狗屁 Chinese can't do anything right. Let's see how "unconventional" London gets.

Wouldn't it have been cooler to have a fire-breathing dragon or a Shenzhou rocket light the cauldron? That would have included China and it's attempt at becoming a leading R&D center.

I have nothing against Li Ning shoes but the fact that someone names a product after themselves says quite a bit about how big a/an ____(fill-in-the-blank)______ this fella is.

The drums were f-ing cool however.

@SGT. SLAUGHTER: Have you ever heard of a guy named Adi Dassler?

if you have the confidence, you can market your own name too! No one is stopping you!
All the fuss about marketing when most everyone agrees in the choice of having Li Ning light the torch because he is an ATHLETE who brought on the spotlight to the Chinese people, the country CHINA.
I had an opportunity to meet him 18 years ago. He was a very kind and humble gentleman. He didn't demonstrate any arrogance at all...unlike many who brag about their moment of glory. I wish all success to him and his company.

Pffefer@臭狗屁 - hey, fellow citizen of the world (Anyone else liked the term Obama used in his address in Berlin?), your comment sounded really superficially judgemental, out of frustration maybe? Tell us your experiences, someone sure can help.

they always say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. step forward, Li Ning:

Adidas: "Impossible is nothing"
Li Ning: "Anything is possible"

Nike: 360°
Li Ning: 361° (gotta love that one)

Working in the PR department for Li Ning cant be very challenging.

sgt.slaughter: If they had made the torch lighting "too chinese," I think it probably would have not had as big an impact on people of other cultures, who wouldn't really be able to relate. But having a person (of any nationality) perform that kind of run through the sky, with images of the torch's travel throughout the rest of the world beforehand, was a great way of showing how there should really be no barriers between nations, and that the olympics serve as a great unifier of all the peoples of the world. That's really the way i saw it, and thus i think zhang yimou's message worked for me at least

"That's really the way i saw it, and thus i think zhang yimou's message worked for me at least"
---\/ /\ /\/

I think the parts that appeared like Zhang Yimou had control over were good. As I said above the drumming was f-ing cool as hell. I don't think HE had much choice as to who would be lighting the cauldron. That was most likely the decision of the organizing committee.

"Have you ever heard of a guy named Adi Dassler?"---DROR

Yes, and I also don't support Adidas. I sport New Balance because they are NEW BEES. It's the same reason I think buying and wearing a Jordan or Kobe jersey is stupid. Why should I wear another man's name on my back? That's just stupid.
Now, if we are talking about John Deere's then its cool because tractors are awesome.

"So shooting an arrow to light the torch impresses you then, or do you prefer them to just waddle up to the big torch set on a fancy podium?"---SENA

I kind of thought the arrow being shot was cool and at least it required some sort of skill.
The second part of your comment are you referring to Ali? If so, than that is not really cool man.

li ning has always been using the slogan anything is possible since i remeber - maybe for more than 10 years? hate to say, but li ning's quality went bad these days. i used to wear a pair of li ning sneakers for almost 3 years when i was in middle school. its quality was so good. i finally threw it into garbage in a camp and told my mother it worn out, hoping she buy me a new pair.

Nice to know SGT. SLAUGHTER is all pimped out in his New Balance when he's doing some slaughtering :), just like I'm wearing them getting slaughtered.

And I can't believe I got tricked into believing in all the Olympics hype. Once again I'm brought down to earth by the reality of our ... reality. Olympics is foremost about politics and commercialization. Sure, I love watching all the beautiful athletes compete, but I think it would have been much more appropriate if they lit the torch with a missile or something, much more appropriate. Forget the drums, bring in the AKS and SU-31s. I would've been way more dazzled by those. Instead of trying to get Spielberg, they should've gotten prez. Bush instead. He's got way cooler toys.

We should've marched in all the crazy Chinese loons and show them to the world.

Is this story getting old? Yes.

@ mike

> technically flawless. visually interesting.
> and completely lacking in emotion/raw power.

What the heck is that supposed to mean? That seems to be a catchall that people like to pin on Asians whenever we exceed in some area.

From Japanese cars to playing the piano.

For some reason we lack "soul" and only possess technique.

It's the exact opposite stereotype that blacks are given---they have "natural-ability" and "soul" but lack the technical aspect.


Personally I felt the opening ceremony evoked a lot of emotions and filled me with pride and awe.

The real context of the olympics is - the globalist is telling you what real power is. They control you. They say jump, you say where do I march, and who do I kill.

I say 99.9% of people in this world are wonderful. It's these 0.1% that has no feelings whatsoever. Maybe they really are all repetillian lizards.

And everything is so clear in hindsight; you can't say the globalist didn't give you any hints that they were planning this.

Jake - some major paranoia there. I was referring to Zhang Yimou, singular. Since when did he become representative of all Asians?

I stick by my point. It may have worked for some; it didn't work for me. Technically cold.

"That seems to be a catchall that people like to pin on Asians whenever we exceed in some area.

From Japanese cars to playing the piano."---JAKE

Whitey only buys Japanese cars because of the better gas mileage mostly. It's not because they are superior automobiles. If there was no gas problem we would all be in Escalades.

And about the piano? What about Bill Haley and the Comets, or Elton John, or Beethoven, or EMF, or a slew of 80s new wave?

Not everything can be looked at from commercial "marketing" perspective!

Totally agree with "gardenlover"! Li Ning has earned his spot in Chinese sports history and earned his spot in this historic moment to light up the Olympics flame in Beijing.

I remembered watching Li Ning on TV during 1984 summer Olympic games and I remembered watching him won 6 medals (3 gold) for China...It was a proud moment for China! He helped China to leave its mark in world Olympic history, and he deserves the honor to light up the Olympic Flame!

You mentioned retailer. So I guess it means he is selling nike, adidas, puma, and the like.So itshould not matter to anyone. He is not copying anything at all

@Set Records Straight: There is no contradiction between the fact that Li Ning deserved to light the flame and the fact that it has marketing value for his company.

@Marisol: Retailer could also be a single brand retailer. Li Ning don't sell Adidas and Nike in their shops (as far as I know...).

Sgt: Interestingly enough, American cars do tend to still have lower quality components and construction than european and japanese cars. My favorite anecdote relating to this involves a long-time friend of mine who is as white as white can be (self-admitted, himself), and I remember when he bought a '94 mustang when they first came out, and within a couple months, parts of the interior started peeling and falling apart. He said, "man, we whites can't make a car for shit. I'm never buying another american car again." That cracked me up...more so when I realized he was telling the truth; the build quality on that mustang was horrible.

If there was a big NBA (basketball) function sponsored by addidas or reebok etc. and Michael Jordan-being probably one of the greatest baskeball players of all time-was invited to perform... and he showed up wearing a nike jumpsuit and some nike air jordans, would people be as up-in-arms as they are with li ning's involvement in the opening ceremony in beijing? 1) Li Ning is probably one of the most celebrated and successful athletes in china (maybe minus yao ming now), and 2) he happens to have his own sporting goods brand, so he wears his own company's products. I see no real problem there at all (refer to nba + jordan analogy above).

the brand of Lining comes from the athlete Lining name, initial "L" stroke rahter than "V"

@\/ /\ /\/: Nobody is up in arms + Michael Jordan is not called Nike. It's very normal for players who are sponsored by one company to attend events sponsored by another. Yao Ming is sponsored by Reebok, takes part in the Olympics sponsored by Adidas, and wears the Chinese BBAll suite made by Nike.

Michael Jordan's name is not Nike, but his lineup up Nike products/shoes are generally called "Jordans" (Air Jordan/Jumpman 23). So like I said, I bet people wouldn't even think twice if Jordan wore Jordan attire while attending a bball-related event as an invitee, even if said event was sponsored by another party. So why all the hubbub over li ning, i say... I'm sure a lot of it has to do with the western world's apprehension (and perhaps slight paranoia) of china's motives in everything it does.

Isn't it that Li Ning is an ENTREPRENEUR, founder of his own company in times of, if not wrong, private businesses not being as encouraged? Have we forgotten that he'd also experienced failture (in Seoul)? But he stood up, back on his feet. Today, he's... flying

Anyone actually counted the final torch bearers, since commercialized Olympics? how many of them were not having/have not their own businesses?


Looks like I need numbering to refer to previous comments

L(N)-like, not V-like

"Interestingly enough, American cars do tend to still have lower quality components and construction than european and japanese cars."---\/ /\ /\/

The fact of the matter is that most American car parts come from Asia and the cars themselves have been assembled for the most part south of the border since the 80s. In addition, the Japanese cars only started to sell like hotcakes when the plants were set up in the States (Mississippi, Tennessee etc.) employing American workers. So not to rain on your U.S. bashing-parade but those "Japanese" cars are American cars and the "American" cars are MexiChese.

Gotta love the internet. You write a post about sports and public relations, and people end up arguing about car parts...

Merci beaucoup, martinw! Another spectator who observed the Senegal banner was Beijing correspondent Richard Williams, and he was the only reporter to mention it in all media coverage of the opening ceremony.
The banner said "Amitié d'abord, compétition ensuite", which is remarkably similar to the popular Chinese sporting phrase 友谊第一比赛第二

I wonder if the sign would have been so hastily removed if a Chinese translation was written on it, but rules are rules and every athlete was told that no banners were allowed.


The Beijing Olympics should have been boycotted by the sponsors, not the participants. It's not just the IP theft and appropriation, it's not just the backdoor manufacturing runs, or the one-off products shipped to third world countries - and to Europe.

It the prevailing culture that says it's okay to screw anyone and everyone if there is a dollar in it for us today, even if securing this dollar means no more dollars tomorrow... something about "burned bridges".

Of course, that makes foreign investors enablers, to say nothing of western consumers.

Pundits and writers will chalk it up to Chinese being hungry due to the recent past, or to an ethos of screwing foreigners due to a century of humiliations, but its not just that.

The most boring torch lighting ceremony since 1988.

I watched the recorded video 12 hrs later through NBC. The OC was STUNNING! CCTV must have positioned its cameras at a weird angle.

It's the same old 'jerk off,' whether the U.S. or China. Manipulate the people with marketing, produce a poor product for profit!
My Li Ning cycling gloves not every well made!

Refer to: link

Ads feature the slogan "Anything is Possible" (which the company launched before Adidas came out with "Impossible is Nothing," but long after Nike's "Just Do It"). And its logo is strikingly similar to the Nike Swoosh.

why don't u guys think crrectly! Li Ning is a Olympic hero back in 1984(3 gold, 2 selver, 1 bronze), then he lost the game in 1988 and started his own business. what's wrong with himself lighting the flame? he totally deserved the pride. its like you ask phelps to lights the flame but people judge him because he owns a sports company...
by the way Hefner!
do some research first ur moron!
FIRST: Li Ning's "Anything is Possible" is used way back before than adidas's "Impossible is Nothing."
SECOND: Li Ning never had a product called 361... its another low end sports company's name in China.( maybe u forgot ur weight as 361 kg, u got to love that one.)

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