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Archive for August, 2008

The Olympics are over, and most of the athletes have returned home to be paraded in front of adoring crowds. Now it is Bob’s turn to do the same (minus the crowds), back in Shanghai again now and the UK tomorrow.

However this is not the end of the events in Beijing, or the Beijing Olympics Blog – the 2008 Paralympics will kick off in a matter of days (unfortunately Bob’s 30 day visa does not allow for this to be covered as well), and there is still plenty to digest from the summer, so watch this space.

It’s been another wonderful trip to China – many thanks to everyone who has helped to make it so; friends and colleagues, former students and volunteers, landlords, shop keepers and taxi drivers.

It has certainly been a successful Olympics (as CCTV constantly reminds us), for which the organisers must be commended. The stadia and facilities have been immense, the volunteers have shone and the organisers have mixed security with convenience to ensure everything has worked smoothly and they have largely escaped criticism.

Well organised does not always mean fun, however. And this is one thing that Beijing could have delivered more of. Within the stadiums the atmosphere has mostly been superb, but outside the enthusiasm has been dispersed and diluted in the vastness of Beijing.

The wide roads and large buildings in Beijing can be disorienting, and can give you the impression of an echo, bouncing around in a void. It lacks the local environments which can stimulate spontaneity and excitement. London has these spaces in abundance, as does Shanghai these days, so for this Bob is less sad about leaving Beijing. The ability to create a great atmosphere and spaces for fans, athletes and locals to unite will be key for London if they hope to host a successful Olympics (much as Sydney managed).

Anyway, more on the pro’s and con’s of the Beijing Games, and what London will need to do later…

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Queuing up to pass through one of the many security check points at the Olympics on one occasion there was a recording being played over the PA system: “Flags of non-participating countries and regions, and sharp objects are not permitted into the Olympic Green”.

At first this seemed like a strange combination – why should sporting Scott or a crowd of Québécois not be allowed to bear their own banners, even if athletes don’t compete under these names? Then an idea quickly dawned. There is a region/nation whose flag is particularly feared by the Beijing Olympic organisers; Tibet.

Bob is not aware of whether this is a new Olympic rule, specific to Beijing, or whether this is customary at every Games. Perhaps those better informed can comment?

Now, the Olympics is one of the few global sporting occasions, it seems, when British athletes do compete under the same banner, and not as the representative countries (which is why Team GB don’t submit a football team to the Games). Personally, this makes it particularly special, and Bob celebrates the opportunity (as an Englishman) to stand alongside Welsh, Scotts and Nothern Irish in support of one team. It is nice to spot a Union Jack in the crowd, but there would be nothing wrong with seeing it flutter next to the Welsh dragon, or Saint Andrew’s Cross.

Bob was considering putting the ruling to the test, and boldly walking up to the gate with the flag of St George tucked under one arm, but then passed a man robed in one casually strolling through the Olympic Green on Saturday 23rd. He did not appear to be hiding his illegal flag from the security.

On the face of it this appears to be a rule with Chinese nationalism in mind, masked as a standard Olympic security condition. Or perhaps that is an over-reaction?

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The latest controversy associated with the Chinese government and the Beijing Olympics has been to do with the age of their gymnasts, and specifically gold medal-winning He Kexin (何可欣). Allegations have suggested that Miss He was born in 1994, meaning that she is too young to compete in the Olympics (16 years or older), while her registration for the Olympics states that she was born in 1992.

This argument has again been spun into a battle between the ‘anti-Chinese western media’ and the ‘government mouth-piece Chinese media’.

So where did the allogations come from?

The earliest record of the allegations Bob has found is in the NYT on 27th July. Here the NYT references previous reports within official Chinese press stating He’s age as 13 in 2007 and 14 in 2008. The article also refers to official documents found online.

This is where it gets interesting…

A blogger, and online security expert known as Stryde (or Mike Walker if you’re being formal) on hearing the allegations decided to conduct a little test to see what documents could be found using search engines.

Searching on Google for cached files using the fields (site:cn 何可欣 filetype:xls 1994) Stryde found that He’s name had been removed from the one resulting file. So he tried the same trick on Baidu:

In the Baidu cache, which apparently has not been hit with the scrub brush (yet), two spreadsheets published by the Chinese government on sport.gov.cn both list He Kexin’s birthday as 01-01-1994, making her 14 years old. For as long as these links work, you can access the documents directly, either using the directions and screenshots above, or these links: cache1 cache2″

Now, these documents are not conclusive proof that He Kexin was born is 1994 (as Stryde himself acknowledges). They may be mistakes, or perhaps it is even possible that someone has hacked in and amended these (though as this comes from a Chinese government site, these options do seem unlikely).

However this has been deemed enough evidence for the IOC to call for further investigation.

The official government’s response has been to blame the mistake on a paper-work error when He transferred from one city team to another last year. Although this does not really explain why the domestic media had believed her date of birth was in 1994.

This subject has been touched upon briefly on CCTV 9 (the English language station), which in itself is a positive thing. But there has been no debate, with the simple notion that as the authorities have now provided He’s passport.

This doesn’t really wash – the idea of a school child writing their own sick note after skipping school for a couple of days without their parent’s knowledge, springs to mind.

It’s a shame that this should come after such a successful Olympics, whether or not it is true. However, it won’t dampen the spirits in China. Most will be happy with the official response, and those that Bob has spoken to who don’t believe He is 16, don’t really care. “Oh no, she is not 16” said a colleague, “but do you know what? Chen Ruolin (陈若琳), a diver, is even younger!”

Updated

Bob has subsequently realised that actually whether or not Chen Ruolin is 16 or not is fairly irrelevant judging by the fact the British diving star Tom Daley is only 14. Obviously different rules apply in diving.

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Much has been made of the scarcity of tickets in Beijing and yet in the first week there was a pandemic of half-empty stadia spreading the city. The government have been publicising their active work to shut down ticket touts and prevent illegal re-sale of official tickets. However, this is typical PR and bluff promoted through state-run media, and actually part of the reason for stadium seats being filled has been the relatively free and open re-selling taking place.

The fact is that a large number of tickets were bought early by Chinese people when Olympic ticket fever was as its peak. Now many of these people are realising that they’re not very fussed about watching an under 23’s football match, or Lycra-clad cyclists race in circles. Of course there are also people who have last minute changes of plan, or fail to find friends to join them. As a result there appear to be a decent amount of tickets ‘going spare’, and Bob has been one of the grateful recipients. So far Bob has acquired 9 tickets from a range of different sources, and has paid little over face value on average. So here is some advice (though alas it comes rather late in the day – again, blame the oft mentioned access limitations to WordPress in China).

First piece of advice, check out an article named Cheap Olympic Tickets and the Running of the Yellow Bulls from Ben, who has had even more success than Bob. Ben’s tips are:

-Pick an event and show up at the venue an hour early.

-Arrive at the event knowing you may be walking around aimlessly for the next hour or two scavenging for a ticket. Patience is a must.

-Be aware that there is probably a 15% chance you will not get in to the event at all. This chance goes up exponentially if the event happens to have an athlete named Kobe Bryant, Yao Ming, Michael Phelps, or Liu Xiang who will be competing that day.

-Find an area near one of the gates where spectators who have just arrived are walking in.

-If you see more than one yellow bull in the vicinity, find a new location.

-Know the price of a face value ticket, and have the money (exact change) in hand ready to pay. On one instance, I had made a deal for face value water polo tickets for a friend and me. As I was fishing the money out of my wallet, a yellow bull swooped in and outbid me for the tickets.

-Approach people heading towards the venue, and politely ask them if they have an extra ticket to sell. It doesn’t hurt to emphasize the fact that you actually want to see the event, and aren’t just going to turn around and re-sell it. Several of the tickets I have bought have been from people who specifically did not want their tickets to get into the hands of yellow bulls.

-If the event has already started and you still don’t have a ticket, don’t panic. The people with extra tickets are in an even bigger pickle than you are. This is prime time for people to be dumping off cheap extras. From the minute the competition starts, the value of tickets drops rapidly.

-This entire process is much, much easier if you are willing to go to events alone as opposed to in pairs or groups. Olympic tickets were originally sold in pairs, but finding someone with two extras is considerably more difficult than finding a single. Finding three or more tickets seated together is virtually impossible. For some more low-demand events (i.e. baseball and beach volleyball) you can usually sit wherever you want once you enter the stadium. These are good events to go to if you want to go in a group.

Bob’s experiences match Ben’s (Bob and Ben, what a pair!) and this certainly seems like sound advice.

For anyone looking for the touts (Huang Niu, 黄牛), Beitucheng Metro Station, at the entrance to the Olympic Green is the place to go. They have been there in force for weeks, and don’t even appear to have been put off by recent police warning signs that have been put up. Beware though, the asking prices are ridiculous so be prepared to barter hard or be ripped off.

The hypocrisy of the official statements of cracking down on illegal ticket sales is exemplified by the fact that this unofficial home for ticket re-sale is at the transfer station for all visitors entering the Olympic Green by metro, and is taking place in front of a bemused stall of Olympic Volunteers.

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The triple jump was an event in which Britain had high hopes for success and Bob has particular person interest too. Phillips Idowu was touted as one of the hottest gold medal chances in Team GB’s track and field brigade, while Bob was particularly excited about seeing an old classmate – Nathan Douglas – compete again.

Unfortunately, both have finished the event with a feeling of disappointment – Nathan missing out on the final, and Phillips winning silver (and losing gold, as he may be feeling) – though neither deserve to be feeling anything less than hugely proud. Nathan was kind enough to conduct a ‘facebook interview’ with Bob a few weeks back, which was going to be posted close to his appearance out here. However, difficulties in accessing the blog have caused a back-log and it is coming out now, when the results of his Olympic campaign are already known. Still, this is as good a time as any to extend congratulations to both and to see what Dougie has to say for himself:

1. It’s an Olympic year…how has 2008 differed from any other year so far, and what will you be doing differently?

ND: Its been a relatively slow year for me this year and it hasnt started how I would like but I do need to keep reminding myself im comin back from injury.

2. Jessica Ennis has just suffered an injury that will keep her out of the Games. Have you spoken to her since this?

ND: Yeh, obviously shes pretty disappointed and I know what thats like after last year [Nathan was injured for the 2007 World Championships in Osaka] but shes a strong girl and will get over it and come back even stronger

3. How do you go about protecting yourself from injury leading up to Beijing?

ND: Its quite hard because you dont want to back off to protect yourself cos u still need to get some quality training done, u just try to look after things that little bit more e.g. recovery strategies

4. Who’s your best friend in Team GB?

ND: Iv got many good friends in the team but I’ll probably be sharing with Christian Malcolm

5. Are there any romances in the Team?

ND: There are a few but my lips are sealed!

6. I’ve often wondered whether triple jumpers every jumper further than their PB in training, but find it difficult to repeat that in competitions?

ND: For me personally, no, because the adrenaline in competition helps me jump further

7. At school people tipped you as the most likely to be famous. I haven’t heard of anyone else from Isis School in the news. Do you ever feel famous?

ND: Nah I never feel famous and wouldnt count myself as famous either, even though its abit weird sometimes being recognised

8. Have you been to Beijing before?

ND: Nope

9. What are you most looking forward to seeing in China?

ND: Im not sure that I will get to see much in China because its all about competition, but I cant wait to see the Olympic stadium

10. What’s your favourite Chinese food? (This is a question Chinese people often ask foreigners!)

ND: Sweet and sour chicken!!!

11. Beijing could be the sight of some protests this summer. Do you have any concerns about competing in China?

ND: Obviously im aware of whats going on around the Olympic games, and understandably so, im glad the Olympics have brought this to the Worlds focus

12. Will you get a chance to see any other events at the Olympics?

ND: I should be able to fit it in after iv competed, thats the time for being a spectator

13. Which athlete would you most like to meet in Beijing?

ND: There isnt any really, you kind of get used to seeing each other around, its like seeing work colleagues around the office

14. Which Brit or Brits would you tip us to look out for in Beijing (apart from you of course!)?

ND: Simeon Williamson, Kelly Sotherton, Jeanette Kwakye, Christian Malcolm, Christine O, Nicola Sanders, Jo Pavey

Bob is still looking for embarrassing pictures of Nathan from school days, so watch this space…

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As the rain poured down in Beijing on Thursday it seemed like a good opportunity to stay in and catch up on some blogging – unfortunately Bob’s internet connection disagreed, and would not allow this post. Trying again now, on Friday. It has been difficult to fit in posts, around ticket-hunting, sport-watching, exploring Beijing and accessing WordPress. It has been hard enough just to keep up with the rapid flow of British gold medals that just seem to keep coming! Fair play to the folks at the BBC live text commentary, who keep Bob up to date with what’s going on; it can’t be an easy job being a journo out here. However, a dedicated press centre, access to BBC TV and not having to run around looking for affordable tickets must help a bit.

Bob has been fortuitous enough to see two British golds, a silver and a bronze, and that is without even making it as far as Qingdao for the sailing or Shunyi for the rowing.

On Sunday night Bob and friends were the beneficiaries of four top-grade seats in the National Indoor arena to watch gymnastics. Coincidentally this was the day in which the only male British gymnast to make it to a final was performing. The event was the pommel horse, and the man was Louis Smith. With gymnastics it is hard sometimes for the lay-person to know when someone has done well or not, but along with the American competitor Smith’s routine was identifiable for its individuality. To see the first gymnastics medal for a British male in 80 years was thrilling!

The velodrome has been the source of 7 of Team GB’s golds, and was top of Bob’s ticket wish-list. Saturday afternoon was spent fruitlessly waiting outside, in the far western suburb of Laoshan, and things did not look promising, until finally persistence paid off with tickets for Monday. It was well worth the graft to see Chris Hoy, Jamie Staff and Victoria Pendleton in dominating form, and on top of that to see the Men’s team pursuit win gold in another world record time! Alas, we had to leave before we could hear the anthem as we had an appointment in the Bird’s Nest.

We needn’t have worried, ‘God Save The Queen’ is getting regular airtime in Beijing this month, and sure enough Bob was present in the Bird’s Nest on Tuesday night to join Christine Ohuruogu in belting it out. All of this success really seems to have awoken a sense of nationalism in Bob – not normally one to carry a Union Jack or swell with pride at the strains of the anthem. Bob can’t help but wonder if it has had the same impact back home – is it great to be British at the moment?

Ohuruogu’s gold was all the more exciting because of the way it was won. Starting just below Bob (as the commentators might have described it), American pre-race favourite Sanya Richards flew off into an early lead, leaving Christine down in 6th or 7th. However, 24-year-old Brit showed amazing self-confidence and experience, giving herself a lot to do down the home straight, but with enough in the tank with which to do it. For the final 50 meters the rest of the field appeared to be running backwards while Ohuruogu powered on slaying one after the other with enough time to spare to win by a clear margin. Brilliance, pure brilliance. The volunteers in the stand nearby appeared to be infected by the excitement too and congratulated Bob so many times it was as if they believed he has run the circuit below.

Although overshadowed by the 400m gold, Germain Mason’s high jump silver medal was an even more unexpected addition to the tally, and an equally impressive performance. The man beat his personal best, only to be bettered by Andre Silnov who is quite simply in a league of his own anyway. Roger Black’s comments about racing for silver when competing in the same race as Michael Johnson come to mind, and in this case Mason stepped up to the plate when it mattered.

Bob also followed the trail to the BMX track this morning to watch Shanaze Reade. Supremely powerful Shanaze lived up to her billing in the semi-finals blowing away much of the competition. But her third fall in six races on the spectacular Chinese track came on the final bend in the final race and cost her a medal. Shanaze was sitting in second place, and crashed in an overtaking manoeuvre, risking a guaranteed silver for a possible gold. This is the first time Shanaze has been beaten all year, and she looked not only physically hurt (possible broken hand) but mentally crushed. No hear though, she will certainly be back, and could be great. Really great!

(Pictures will follow, but the connection to WordPress is just too slow at the moment…)

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Liu Xiang has been forced out of the 110m hurdles at the first hurdle (apologies), due to a leg injury. Round 1 of his event began this morning, and, but not before rumours were fluttering around the Bird’s Nest that he was injured. The crowd were on edge, but when Liu valliently came out for his heat it seemed at first that the fears were in fact unfounded. However Liu’s race ended before it had begun, as at a false start he pulled up unable to clear the first barrier. As the other racers returned to their marks Liu had to admit defeat…

Here is the live text coverage as it happened from the BBC (time is BST = Beijing +7):

0451: This is going to end in tears – Liu Xiang walks out to a rapturous applause, only for a packed stadium to see their tyro pull up holding his Achilles after going through a warm-up sprint. He looks utterly gutted, but he’s only gone and pulled off his tracksuit bottoms – he’s going to run this – he’s only going to run this ruddy race!

0454: This is just horrible – Liu Xiang winces as he sets himself in the blocks, only to pull up after a false start. And that’s it – the white flag has been waved, the defending champion admits defeat and returns to the changing rooms. I don’t think the capacity crowd at the Bird’s Nest have actually understood what has just gone on.

It’s a bit soon to gage the reaction of the Chinese public to this sad, sad news. Bob’s colleagues are stunned, and fairly unwilling to talk about it. Won’t push it!

It’s worth remembering the huge amount of expectation on Liu; the 1# Chinese Olympic dream was to see Liu retain his gold, and he was even compared to Communist hero Lei Feng.

He clearly wanted to run so badly, he must have known that there was no real way that he could compete with his injury, but couldn’t bring himself to pull out until it was literally impossible to continue.

Just to compound a sad morning for Bob, one of Britain’s triple jump stars, and a former classmate of your truly, Nathan Douglas has not reached the qualifying distance for the final. Gutted.

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