Journalists following the Women's Olympic Football Tournament could hardly find a more fitting interviewee than Sun Wen, who has been deeply involved with each of the four competitions since the first in Atlanta in 1996.
The world's all-time scoring great, now 35, figured prominently in the inaugural event 12 years ago, when she won the Olympic silver with China. Four years later, she played in her second finals and despite the Steel Roses' early exit in the group stage; she scored four goals to scoop the top scorer prize.
Her ability off the pitch was discovered after she called time on her playing career in 2004. In Athens four years ago, Sun Wen worked as a reporter for a newspaper in Shanghai, her home city. Here at Beijing 2008, she is busying herself as a member of the local organization committee (LOC) in the Shanghai venue.
"I am working as the venue general coordination on behalf of the LOC and my job is to assist my FIFA counterparts with the organization work," she said, admitting that her current job is much more difficult than scoring goals. "For a striker you do your job well as long as you score goals, but as an organiser I can see that to make a tournament successful requires sustained hard work by FIFA, IOC, LOC and all others involved."
While the women's competition this time ended up with near carbon copy to the final four years ago, with the USA prevailing over Brazil for their third Olympic gold, Sun Wen was quick to point out the general progress made by all the participating teams.
"What has impressed me most so far is that the competition was more difficult and even than in the Women's World Cup last year. World champions Germany has trouble scoring against the likes of Nigeria and Japan. The traditional underdogs have made rapid progress and are closing in on the powerhouses."
Sun Wen's conclusion was best illustrated by Japan and Korea DPR's brave performances. The Koreans carved out a 1-0 win over Nigeria while the Japanese broke further ground by storming into the semi-finals.
"It has long been difficult for Asian teams to play against the physically stronger European or American opponents but the Japanese players here showed the way," she remarked, citing the Nadeshiko's 5-1 thrashing of Norway.
The hosts' hopes
A 2-0 defeat to their regional rivals Japan in the quarter-finals ended the hosts' hopes of a football medal. The disappointment did not, however, dent Sun Wen's faith on the young Steel Roses under coach Shang Ruihua.
"Despite the result, I am glad to see the team has been moving in the right direction. They rediscovered their fighting spirit during the campaign, a legacy left by the old generation. With coach Shang in charge of the team, they can develop back into the world's most competitive teams."
Having said that, Sun Wen admitted there are areas where the team needs to improve. "The Japanese are leading Asia in terms of techniques and tactics so we have to work hard to catch up with them. We (China) have a physical edge in Asia therefore we will be more than capable of maintaining our place as continental powers if we hone our skills to a higher level."