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Archive for January, 2008

Bird’s Nest Construction

Well, according to Beijing Vice-Mayor Chen Gang, the total cost of the venues will be about 13 billion RMB (1.22 billion Euros). Of this 3.5 billion RMB will have been spent on the Bird’s Nest. In contrast, the London 2012 Olympics have been set a target of 9.3 billion Pounds (12.52 billion Euros) to cover construction – about 10 times as much. Of course a great number of factors will account for this not least local labour costs, but anyone looking to purchase a Bird’s Nest or Water Cube would be wise, on this evidence, to shop in China.

On the topic of the costs of construction of the Olympic venues, there has been discussion over how many workers have or have not died on sites over the 5 year building period. This stems from a report in the British Sunday Times that “China has systematically covered up the accidental deaths of at least 10 workers, and perhaps many more, in a rush to construct the futuristic ”bird’s nest” stadium in Beijing for this summer’s Olympic Games”. After some toing and froing the official line now seems to be that 6 workers have died; 2 on the Bird’s Nest site, and 4 elsewhere. The Sunday Times article has a vivid account from a migrant worker, that could be representative of the perils that so many of China’s floating population face, though is certainly not exclusive to workers on Olympic venues. It remains to be seen if the Sunday Times keep such a close record of the accidental deaths of works on the 2012 Olympic sites.

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The Water Cube

The Water Cube, less commonly known as the National Aquatic Centre, was officially unveiled today in Beijing. The building will undergo its first test by hosting the China Open swimming championships from Jan 31 to Feb 5.

Things you might like to know:

  • The building boasts an LED system with 16.7 million color tones
  • It has cost the best part of 100 million Euros and taken over 4 years to build
  • It is also the only Olympic venue that is financed by the Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan compatriots
  • It will hold up to 17,000 spectators

The official home page is really actually quite good, so check it out for videos and info on the WC. Alternatively try this rather abstract video on youtube for some extra ‘insight’.

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News reports this week about the Olympics have been dominated by the publication of the plan to keep half of Beijing’s cars off the road for the duration of the Games this summer. The objectives being to reduce congestion and improve air quality.

The NYT has picked up on this with an interesting interview with ‘the lead exercise physiologist for the United States Olympic Committee, Randy Wilber’. This is accompanied by a particularly interesting supplement which describes the influences on Beijing’s summer climate, as well as the possible effects poor quality air can have on athletes.

There is significant doubt over the possible success of the BOGOC’s plans to cut air pollution, as expressed separately by the NYT. This perhaps is not surprising, after the mixed results of the test carried out last August; “More than a million cars were taken off the roads for the four-day test period, but there was no improvement in the air quality, according to city officials” said the Guardian.

The test certainly reduced Beijing’s much maligned traffic, but impacts on the air quality were less clear. From the Guardian again; “The city’s Olympic organisers declared the test, which ends today, a success. Because there was no wind, they argued, pollution would have grown thicker without the special restrictions.”

Well, this August 1.65 million cars will be taken off the roads in Beijings. Should these measures herald blue skies; should the wild not lend a helping hand; Jacques Rouge, IOC President, has famously raised the possibility of events in “endurance sports like cycling” being postponed.

NYT raises this possibility with Randy Wilber, who is investigating rules over use of asthma inhalers, and even considering use of face masks. With tongue in check, the question is even posed about how athletes should prepare for the Games:

“Should I run behind a bus and breathe in the exhaust? Should I train on the highway during rush hour? Is there any way to acclimate myself to pollution?”

A little over the top perhaps?

The idea of athletes boycotting the Olympics because of the air quality is very sad, and is probably one that appeals to the Western media as an opportunity to show unusual concern with regard to the environment. Though the quality of the air during the Games is a very real concern, it seems unlikely that any athletes would jeopardise their Olympic dreams by staying away. The measures in place, are certainly not permanent solutions to Beijing’s problems, but it would be surprising if they did not fulfill their immediate objectives.

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Deng Yaping Olympic giant

Deng Yaping is not a household name outside China. (In fact if you Google her name the intuitive search engine asks if you mean Deng Xiaoping.) But Yaping is one of China’s greatest Olympians having won four gold medals, despite her diminutive height. In contrast her public stature could not be much larger, illustrated by the fact that she was voted Chinese female athlete of the century.

What may distinguish this athlete even more, are her non-athletic achievements. Retiring at the age of 24, she has an undergrad degree at one of China’s most prestigious Universities, and a Masters at the University of Nottingham ( a University which has fostered it’s links to China, and was the founder of the first Sino-Foreign university in China with approval from the Chinese Ministry of Education) and is now working on a PhD at Cambridge. And in a couple of weeks Yaping will celebrate her 35th birthday – as long as responsibilities as a member of the IOC and deputy manager of the Olympic village don’t come in the way, of course.

So, it could be said that there are few people more entitled to speak about the pressures that the Chinese stars will be facing in the home Olympics this summer. This has been discussed here before in reference to Liu Xiang, but it can rightly be related to the table tennis players too, who will have even higher expectations on them.

This story was picked up by TIME. To see a video interview with Deng Yaping, filmed last Autumn, visit CNN.

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Where will you be on 10th July? If you are in Beijing and you call by the National Olympic Stadium you may catch the opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympic Games. Only the rehearsal mind, the dates of which have been announced today.

The announcements do not reveal whether creative director Zhang Yimou or collaborator Steven Spielberg will be there.

Nor does it divulge whether artificial mitigation of rains will be used to guarantee good weather for the rehearsal in the way that it is planned for the main event on 8th August.

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Two articles appeared today that in their conflicting messages seem to epitomise the environmental situation in Beijing leading up the the ‘Green Games‘.

Beijing Residents in Environmental Protection‘ reads the headline of an article containing the results of a survey overseen by the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA). “The results showed that Beijing had the most active participation in environmental protection”, which is surely a positive reflection of the impact of the Olympics on the capital’s residents and theirway of thinking.

Meanwhile in the Wall Street Journal today (picked up by TIME) Steven Q. Andrews an experience environmental lobbiest writes from Beijing about the deterioration of the city’s air quality.

“In 2006, of the 84 major cities in China reported by the State Environmental Protection Agency, Beijing had the fewest number of days attaining the national air quality standard — and in 2007, the air quality was even worse.”

In Andrews’ words, this “raises serious questions about Beijing’s commitment to a green Olympics.”

All this on a day when the Chinese press is full of news about new legislation banning ultra-thin plastic bags, and imposing a charge for all plastic bags in shops.

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Ai Weiwei is one of the most prominent artists and architectural designers in China, and colaborated with Swiss firm Herzog de Meuron on design of the structural icon of the 2008 Olympics, the Birds Nest, the Beijing National Stadium.

Given this connection with the Games, it may be a little surprising to head him speaking openly and frankly in his blog about state of China in 2008, and with particular contempt for the goverment. The post has been translated by the China Digital Time.

Ai refers to growing inequality in the country, political corruption, inflation, pollution and lack of human rights.

Of the 2008 Games he says that: “An Olympics far from the will of the people and the spirit of freedom, a national ceremony without the inspiration of the citizenry, a myth so far away from modern civilization, the end result will be endless nonsense and a bore.”

How many people Ai Weiwei’s words speak on behalf of is unclear. However it is perhaps in a perverse way a positive reflection on the changes taking place in China that this voice can be aired. For better or worse it seems the Olympics are certainly destined to play their part in these changes.

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