Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Beijing Olympics -- China's come-of-age show

Special Report: Yearender 2008
By Sportswriter Gao Peng

BEIJING, Dec. 24 (Xinhua) -- China capped the most splendid year in its sports history when it concluded with a bang its debut as Olympic host in 2008.

After 16 days of near-flawless organization and first-class athletic achievement, International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge called the Beijing Olympics "truly exceptional", validating China's seven-year efforts not only to stage a great Games but to use it as a gateway to gaining international recognition.

"It has been a long journey since our decision in July 2001 to bring the Olympic Games to China, but there can now be no doubt that we made the right choice," Rogge said on the final day of the Games in August.

Yet the run-up to the Beijing Olympics was not plain sailing, especially in the last few months before the opening ceremony.

An 8.0-magnitude earthquake hit southwest China's Sichuan Province in May, killing more than 80,000 people, and violent protesters disrupted the Olympic torch relay in France and other countries. In addition, there had been persistent concerns about Beijing's air pollution and the IOC initially said some outdoor endurance events might be re-scheduled in case of unhealthy air conditions.

To Beijing's credit, however, everything worked perfectly during the period of Games time, from the special Olympic bus lines bringing visitors in from around the city, to the thousands of smiling volunteers in blue-and-white uniforms offering help in different languages, to the tickets with embedded RFID chips that allowed for quick computerized scanning and to the clean skies that reminded many European visitors of Mediterranean conditions.

"The Beijing Games is testimony to the fact that the world has its trust rested in China," said Liu Qi, president of the Beijing Organizing Committee of the Games. "The Chinese people, filled with enthusiasm, have honored the commitments they solemnly made."

These Games have attracted the most participants -- from a record 204 countries and regions -- and according to the IOC, television audiences achieved record high in most major markets and the games' presence online was by far the most extensive ever. The opening ceremony alone was seen by 1.2 billion people around the globe.

Rogge believed the largest extravaganza in Olympic history brought greater global understanding of once-reclusive China.

"Through the Games, the world has learned more about China, and China learned more about the world," he said.

For 100 years the Olympic dream has been a national obsession, as historical archives showed that shortly after the 1908 Games in London, a magazine based in north China's port city of Tianjin published an article and first raised the question: When will China be able to host the Olympic Games?

And for the past seven years the Olympics has been a driving force to push China forward. If nothing else, some of the 40 billion U.S. dollars invested in the Beijing 2008 preparations will remain in the form of the three new subway lines, a new airport terminal and sports facilities built for the Games. The thousands of young, smiling volunteers will take their warmth and enthusiasm back to their daily lives.

The Olympics also offered China another chance to adopt international practice. IOC officials, foreign administrative teams and foreign sponsors were engaged extensively in the preparations. From the design of the state-of-the-art Bird's Nest, to the broadcasting and administrative work, they helped improve the standard of the Games.

With the Olympic baton now passed on to London, the legacy will last well after.
"The Games gave us a more open and mature attitude," said Professor Hu Jiqing from Nanjing University. "This attitude featured magnanimity, tolerance and pluralism."
"More importantly, it embodies a more confident nation," added Hu.