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Archive for the ‘Beijing’ Category

This is one of the final posts on the Beijing Olympics Blog – the experiment is coming to an end, and to be honest, since getting back from China Bob has found it hard to summon up the time and enthusiasm to keep posting. To sign off it’s time to review the Beijing Olympics and Paralympics, identify lessons to be learnt for London 2012, and on a personal level to review the blogging experiment.

So, lessons for London 2012.

Don’t over-price

Despite the attention on empty seats and ticket touts it certainly seemed to Bob that most events were well attended by Chinese fans who were thrilled to be there. Bob watch Christine Ohuruogu win the 400m gold sat high in the stands next to a man from rural Shanxi province who had bought just one ticket and was determined to enjoy the night. The lack of Chinese athletes did not dampen his spirits, but prompted him to join Bob in cheering anyone British. He even had a stab at ‘God Save The Queen’!

Don’t over-price tickets in London, make international sport accessible for all.

Don’t get too obsessed by the medals table

This is something that the Beijing organisers were guilty of. There has been a great recognition of the advancement of Chinese elite sport leading up to the Olympics, and while this will undoubtedly inspire uptake of sport across the country most reports suggest that grass roots sport has not been promoted (see China Review 43 page 18. London 2012 should be able improving sports access in the UK, and the medal success should be a reflection of that, not a priority over it.

Some of the most controversial events in Beijing were related to poor judging and ineligible athletes in sports where it seemed the Chinese team were desperate to contribute to the country’s medal tally. The pressure on the people involved undermined the sporting achievements.

Let people gather

People who have attended both the Sydney and Beijing Olympics tend to agree on one thing; the atmosphere within the host city was better in the 2000 Games. This has a lot to do with the lack of spaces for fans from different countries to gather an celebrate in Beijing. Big screens were few and far between, sponsored events in the city were rare, and people without tickets were not allowed within the vicinity of the stadia. Understandably the Chinese authorities are not keen on large gatherings of people in Beijing, and this inhibited the Olympic spirit in Beijing.

Not everyone who attends the London Olympics will be able to get tickets for their favourite events but there is more to the Olympics than that. The London organisers should put together as many events as possible. Most essential of all: sites with big screens around the city where people can gather. Although London will probably have more security concerns than Beijing, there are alternatives to restricting freedoms.

Free transport for ticket-holders

Another of the success stories from the Beijing Games was the free transport. It’s not so much about saving money, but about making visitors feel welcome and facilitating a great experience. London’s transport is expensive, and this is a must for 2012.

Enable resale of tickets

Another of the many things the Chinese organisers did right was to turn a blind eye to ticket resale. Without this there would have been more empty seats, more disgruntled visitors, and less atmosphere in the stadia. However, Bob has no sympathy for ticket touts, who inflate the price of events, make it harder for real fans to get tickets legitimately and cream off profit without doing anything to earn it. Instead the London 2012 organisers must facilitate ticket resale and exchange at face value. A dedicated website and amnesty zones around the city should be set up to allow unwanted tickets to be passed on fairly.

Refreshments – not just a chance to make a buck

Sporting events have a tendency of serving terrible food for equally unpalatable prices, so it was refreshing in Beijing that the mark up was minimal (even if the food was still awful). London is an expensive place as it is, and there is a chance visitors will feel like money is being wrung out of them if food and drinks aren’t affordable.

In London the refreshments should be a chance to show-case good, healthy, local, and affordable delights. London can break the mould and make eating and drinking part of the experience rather than an unavoidable necessity for visitors. At least more choice than just McDonald’s!

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Paralympics Closing Ceremony

Paralympics Closing Ceremony

The Beijing Paralympics wrapped up yesterday with yet another spectacular ceremony at the wonderful Bird’s Nest stadium giving delirious athletes a chance to say goodbye after an extremely successful Games. Sounds like a similar story to four weeks ago when the Olympics ended on a high – we were even treated to another show of gormless flag waving from an open-suited Mayor of London.

Unfortunately Bob has been awol for the last three weeks and has not been able to continue regular blogging throughout the Paralympics, and this is not an attempt to brush it under the carpet as ‘similar to the Olympics’; reviews of the Paralympics will follow. Bob has been keeping up with the news from Beijing, but upon returning to work in London has suffered from excess of work and shortage of post-Beijing motivation, both of which have stifled blogging.

As the Paralympic athletes return to their respective homes there do seem to be a number of parallels with the Olympics:

  • The organisers will be breathing a sigh of relief after another almost trouble-free event. They have been widely congratulated by athletes, officials and observers alike (and are not afraid of exhibiting this in the Chinese media)
  • The ceremonies have been grand and spectacular
  • The volunteers have been lauded and celebrated for their enthusiasm and sheer number

    Volunteers at the 2008 Olympics at Shanghai Stadium

    Volunteers at the 2008 Olympics at Shanghai Stadium

  • China have topped the medal table
  • The British team are celebrating an extraordinary performance (although the athletics has been a disappointment)
  • Questions are being asked about how London will measure up to Beijing
  • Despite fantastic organisation, comments have been made about Beijing’s lack of atmosphere and ‘fun’

Over the next two weeks Bob will discuss the Paralympics, the aftermath of both events in Beijing 2008, the implications for China, and the lessons for London in 2012. Then the Beijing Olympics Blog will be wrapped up for good, and some new chapters will be opened.

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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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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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2008 Olympic Football Match in Shanghai

2008 Olympic Football Match in Shanghai

Bob’s Olympic experience kicked off on Wednesday at the football qualifiers in Shanghai. The game could hardly be described as thrilling – New Zealand lost 1-0 to Belgium in a match so one-sided that the Belgians appeared to miss opportunities out of embarrassment for their opponents more than inability. The highlight for the smattering of Kiwi fans being the team’s farewell haka – this being their final match having failed to qualify for the knock-out stages.

The team will by now already have left China, as athlete’s permission to stay in the country expires within 24 hours of elimination from the tournament.

Unlike events in Beijing, the Shanghai football matches appear to have a tickets still available from the Stadium, so it is a safer bet for a bit of the Olympic experience than coming up to Beijing.

The Shanghai Stadium also looked excellent – considerably smarter than three years ago when Bob visited. Three-quarters full with fans, and absolutely flooded with volunteers and security staff. The drinks stalls resembled the infamous Chinese department stores with more employees than customers, and five people doing one job. Simply to buy an orange juice Bob had to order from one person, who then requested the bottle from two others directly behind him; meanwhile another girl had provided a cup and a fifth volunteer was giving change for a 10yuan note.

Volunteers at the 2008 Olympics at Shanghai Stadium

Volunteers at the 2008 Olympics at Shanghai Stadium

To be fair to the volunteers the apparent monotony of having so little to do – matched by the monotony of the match, one might suggest – did not dampen their enthusiasm; there were smiles galore.

Unlike the New Zealand football team, this was only the beginning of Bob’s Olympic adventure. Now in Beijing (under sunny skies, no less) Bob is looking forward to some athletics, and is hoping to catch some of the Olympic spirit in the Beijing bars this weekend. Onwards…

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With the Olympic Rowing finals around the corner, Bob has interviewed British junior coach David Blackham to find out his thoughts on the emergence of a strong Chinese team, the weather conditions and the chance of the British rowers. Here is what he had to say, before heading out to see the Games for himself:

David Blackham – British Junior Rowing Coach

BOB: Rowing is a sport the Chinese have targeted in their campaign to top the medal table in Beijing. Have they been successful?

They have definitely made big inroads, how successful and how far they have come at the very top level is yet to be seen. What is evident is that they have become one of the major players.

They haven’t got everything right yet and some areas are getting better than others; they’re not competing on the heavyweight men’s scene as much as they’d like, but other areas (e.g. lightweight women) seem to be going very well.

They are definitely finding success but there have been some ethical issues raised about their programmes.

BOB: Can you put this success into context?

Although it wasn’t my generation, their rise has been compared to that of the East Germans. Although it is important to remember that team China still has to prove itself on the Olympic stage.

BOB: How have they done this?

From what I have seen the Chinese seem very focused and determined, which is essential for a sport like rowing. The main factors have been: investment in their programme to support their athletes and the drive of the athletes to compete in an Olympics on their home turf.

It is also a numbers game – with maybe 20,000 rowing in the UK, maybe 100,000 in Germany, there are only going to be a few who have the ability to row at Olympic level. China has a population of 1.3 billion.

It is fair to say that rowing is still an elitist sport to the global stage, and this has helped team GB in the past. The GB set up – some great athletes and some good athletes who the team can get the best out of – is much like the private school set up.

China has the athletes and is developing the set up. In many ways it is quite comparable to what’s happening in the UK at the moment in junior rowing, between club and school. Rowing has always been dominated by schools but this is now being challenged by the clubs. The sport is opening up which is only good for it: more competition = faster times.

BOB: People have speculated about drugs – what are your feelings?

It is a relatively clean sport, but drug cheats do occasionally occur. My gut feeling is that the Chinese rowing team is clean, but I also think that if one or two of them aren’t clean then it will be endemic, and the whole team will need to be scrutinised as it would more than likely come from their coaches.

I hope that they are clean, as it would drag the whole sport down otherwise. It is very easy to speculate about drug issues if an athlete/team do well, as a way of justifying why they are better than you, rather than looking at your own set up. Team GB though are also better than Team China at this stage so you shouldn’t get ahead of yourself.

BOB: Does the rowing world have a ‘world order’, and if so will China’s rise impact this?

Rowing, like any other sport, does have a world order but it seems to vary. GB, Australia, NZ, USA, Canada, Germany and Italy – in no order.

China is breaking into that group.

New competition is always good. Just like the economy, the Chinese rowing team has the potential to be #1!

BOB: What are the conditions like in Beijing for rowing?

Well… I gather things went well when the 2007 junior world champs where held there.

Smog, pollution and heat aren’t going to help rowers but it is the same for all the athletes and the governing bodies have known it’s going to be in Beijing for 7 years. Let’s hope a sand storm doesn’t blow off the Gobi Desert!

BOB: Are there any British stars we should keep an eye out for?

The form book says the women’s quad. It would be great for women’s rowing and GB rowing in general if they could do it. Individual stars – Zac Purchase in lightweight doubles has a great chance. Triggs-Hodget in the coxless four will have to ‘do a Pinsent’ if they are to win gold; he is a world class athlete though.

BOB: Is there a race that you are particularly looking forward to?

Everyone looks forward to the men’s eight. It would be great to see GB in the medals; lightweight doubles, heavyweight coxless fours for example for GB interests. For the pure enthusiasts the men’s single sculls will be a great battle and hopefully Campbell can muscle in on the act.

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The general concensus appears to be that it was a truely spectacular opening ceremony (and no need to any fears of upset).

Bob watched the whole ceremony with friends, and here are out selection of the top 10 moments:

China's Human Print Press - People Power

China's Human Print Press - People Power

10 – The sea of printing blocks – representing the creation of printing in China – that moved in smooth waves as if computerised, but in fact powered by hundreds of men. A particularly nice touch at the end of the sequence when the men burst out and waved to the elated crowds.

9 – The moment when a group representing China’s different ethnic minorities entered the stadium with the national flag. Or to be more accurate, the moment that they handed over the flag to PLA soldiers – there has to be a metaphore in that!?

Symetry and Harmony - Olympic Drummers Recite Confucius

Symetry and Harmony - Olympic Drummers Recite Confucius

8 – The perfect execution of the mass drumming and recital of Confucius’s words. The synchronicity was astounding; if this is anything to go by expect China to take a clean sweep on synchronised swimming golds.

7 – When, during the procession of athletes, the camera panned to three top tennis players and summarised perfectly their contrasting personalities. Rafael Nada, looking sweaty and pumped; Roger Feder, immaculate; and Andy Murray, scruffy.

6 – Firewords with smiling faces. The country that invented fireworks combines it’s pyrotechnic heritage with the modern popularity of cute emoticons. (Apologies, can’t find a photo of this.)

5 – Team Japan waving both Japanese and Chinese flags. A small act but a big statement. This could potentially have been unpopular back home, but is a bold step in international relations. Who says the Olympics aren’t about politics!?

Olympic Rings - The Light Appeared to Peal From the Floor

Olympic Rings - The Light Appeared to Peal From the Floor

4 – Early on in the ceremony the Olympic rings appeared to be projected onto the stadium floor by spot lights. It was breath-taking then when the five rings rose up from the ground to hover vertically in midair. Goose-pimples!

3 – The moment when Team China entered the stadium and the cowboy boot-wearing cheerleaders stepped up the tempo again, after having been dancing and cheering for over two hours by this stage. Olympic stamina!

2 – Li Ning executes the trademark Zhang Yimou slow-running-in-the-sky torch lighting. The image was straight out of films like Hero and Li Ning executed it perfectly.

1 – The electronic drum countdown. The coordination of the drummers was spectacular enough, and then they took it to another level with the countdown of scrolling numbers from 10 to 0 in both numerical values and Chinese. The biggest the many breath-taking moments of the night.

Beijing Olympic Drummers Count Down Perfectly

Beijing Olympic Drummers Count Down Perfectly

The organisers for London 2012 will have a tough act to follow…

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