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London: On any other day and in any other situation, the Tibetan exiles who gathered excitedly in groups next to Buckingham Palace would never have come to cheer for an athlete wearing the colours of China, a country they regard as their oppressor, a country that invaded and has governed their Himalayan homeland with an iron fist for six decades.
But this was exceptional because, apparently for the first time at an Olympics, the athlete was one of them, a Tibetan.
Standing apart but, just this once, both wanting the same thing, groups of Chinese supporters shouted “Jia You!” while the Tibetans yelled “Gyuk!” — both meaning, “Go on!”
The Chinese waved their red flags. The Tibetans waved the flag of Tibet that is banned in China, with a bright yellow sun rising over a snow-clad mountain.
They could hear and see each other, but they studiously ignored each other, too.
The athlete – Qieyang Shenjie to the Chinese, Choeyang Kyi for the Tibetans – could hear the yells of encouragement.
Not only did Qieyang make history for Tibetans, she won a medal, too — bronze in the women’s 20-kilometre walk on Saturday.
She beamed when she crossed the finish line, a picture of delight. If she felt discomfort at all as a Tibetan in Chinese colours, she didn’t show it.
“I’m extremely honoured to take part as the first representative of the Tibetans at the Olympic Games and to win a medal,” she said.
Because Tibet is ruled by China, it does not have its own team at international competitions. (AP)