That couldn’t silence the cheering workers from Beijing’s Capital Steel, a 1,000-strong group that spread itself in square clusters around the Olympic basketball venue on Monday.
Highly visible in yellow T-shirts, they thumped plastic yellow batons, belted out “jia you, jia you” (let’s go in Chinese) and created enthusiasm that belied the score.
“Every single time when we made a mistake, they kept yelling for us, they kept cheering for us,” said Sui Feifei, one of China’s starting five. “We really should thank them.”
Just a few days into the Beijing Olympics, the egg-yoke yellow cheering sections have been spotted at every Olympic venue, part of a government-run program to make sure cheers are polite, organized and atmospheric—even if there isn’t much to cheer about.
The cheering squad from Capital Steel—a sprawling complex in west Beijing that is closed during the Olympics to cut down pollution—shared space with a few groups from other labor unions. But the mission was the same.
“We’ll not give up supporting China until the last minute,” said Huo Liangshan, a Capital Steel employee sitting near the top row in the 18,000-seat arena. “I like the atmosphere.”
China’s communist government has spent more than a year training people to cheer, organizing workshops that often took place in shopping malls or small theaters where workers were given time off to learn how and when to shout— depending on the sport.
“As usual, the Chinese fans were tremendous,” said Tina Thompson, who led the U.S. with 27 points.
Despite the highly regimented training, some of the cheering on Monday was chaotic and spontaneous—maybe a bit more fun than government organizers intended. In the run-up to the Olympics, Beijing city officials boasted citizens were leaning about 20 “civilized cheers.” On Monday, it was pretty much limited to “jia you, jia you.”
“We are supposed to have two group leaders in charge of the cheers, getting us organized,” said Wang Yan, a young woman with the foundry group. “I think the leaders got too busy watching the game and didn’t do their job.”
When the score was 45-14, the cheering clusters still crackled with applause.
They screeched at the halftime buzzer when Chen Xiaoli hit a jumper to cut the U.S. lead to a mere 61-27. At the final buzzer, when a Chinese player was unceremoniously stripped of the ball, several groups jumped to their feet to cheer.
“They are so gung-ho,” said Rossanna Wright, an American fan who said she experienced the same atmosphere at a men’s volleyball match a day earlier.
“They are just great. If they weren’t here, I’d miss them. They make the atmosphere.”