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Archive for the ‘London 2012’ 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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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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This post is being written from SW19 where today Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer made history, beautifully.

Nadal and Federer - True Olympians

Nadal and Federer - True Olympians

It is four years until Wimbledon will be an Olympic venue, but today the most famous tennis club in the world played host to a such exhibition of sporting excellence that the Greek Gods themselves would have struggled to keep up. Rarely do two sporting greats meet in the ultimate arena, and both perform to their potential – but today they did. This summer in Beijing most anticipation will be on the clashes between Liu Xiang and Dayron Robles or the three-way of Usain Bolt, Asafa Powell and Tyson Gay. If any of these confrontations prove to be half as dramatic as the men’s Wimbledon final of 2008, they will go down in Olympic history for it!

This year’s Wimbledon tournament means that there will be added interest in the tennis competition in Beijing. Added local interest will come thanks to the giant-slaying heroics of Zheng Jie, the women’s semi-finalist who defeated three seeds including new world number one Ana Ivanovic before coming up against Williams junior.

But the men’s tournament is likely to attract more international coverage than it might have previously thanks to events in south-west London today. In defeating reigning five-time champion on his favourite surface Rafael Nadal has leap-frogged Roger Federer in many people’s eyes (if not the official rankings, yet) to the position of world number 1. This remarkable feat was sealed in an even more remarkable match, which Nadal won 9-7 in the final set.

This signifies a tectonic shift in men’s tennis – not since 1981 has anyone won the French Open and Wimbledon back to back – and opens up speculation about who will go on to dominate the coming years of the sport. With only one Grand Slam left this year (US Open), and the end of season masters competition (also based in China, in Shanghai) the Beijing Olympics becomes one of the three most high profile events left of 2008. With the place at the top of the men’s tennis tree in more open contention than it has been for five years the Beijing Olympic tennis competition holds more significance than many people would have expected. Let’s just hope that we can expect the kind of final that these athletes produced today.

Olympic Gold - One of the Few Honours Federer is Yet to Win

Olympic Gold - One of the Few Honours Federer is Yet to Win

Both Federer and Nadal are very aware of sporting history, and so will both be among the top players to participate in Beijing. According to the BBC coverage 17 of the top 20 men and 18 of the top 20 women will play at the Olympics. Bob is aware than Andy Roddick will not participate, although this is not a boycott by any means, but a purely sporting decision. And of course the retirement of Justine Henin earlier this year means she will not be present.

Federer Lead the Swiss Olympic Team in 2004

Federer Lead the Swiss Olympic Team in 2004

In 2004 Federer was the flag bearer for the Swiss Olympic team, and he is hoping to fulfil this role again this year (via China Daily).

“It’s my birthday on the day of the opening ceremony, maybe I will carry the flag again for Switzerland. I’d be very honoured.”

On the subject of the Olympics Rafael Nadal to China Daily “The Olympics will be important”, and how right he was!

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The international news and the blogosphere this week has rightfully been dominated by coverage of the dreadful events in Sichuan, and the relief efforts. It’s difficult to concentrate on other news.

Oscar \'The Blade Runner\' Pistorius

However this Friday saw ground-breaking news that will reflect strongly on the Olympics, if not in Beijing then certainly in future events. After months of appeal Oscar Pistorius has been told by the Court of Arbitration for Sport that he is free to qualify for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing (full report here).

This ruling has over-turned the decision made by the IAAF that had barred him from competing against able-bodied athletes. The IAAF’s decision was based on the theory that Pistorius’ carbon fibre prosthetics give him an unfair advantage, as proven by research last November. The Court of Arbitration concluded that this research was flawed.

For a fuller discussion of the reasoning behind the ruling see the New York Times’ new Olympics blog.

What does this mean…?

Firstly it means that Oscar Pistorius can run in the 400m at the Beijing Olympic Games, if he reaches the qualifying time. Courtesy of the NYT again the qualifying time for the South African Olympic team is “45.95 seconds, or 45.55 if another South African qualifies. Pistorius’s personal best at 400 meters is 46.46”. This seems unlikely, but failing this Oscar could still run in the 4 x 400m relay.

Oscar is viewing the situation in the long term, and London 2012 could be the pinnacle for his ambitions: “Now I can definitely say the truth has come out. I have the opportunity once again to chase my dream of the Olympics if not 2008, in 2012.”

For other disabled athletes with Olympic dreams this will act as a spur of encouragement, though the Court were clear in pointing out that this was specific to this case and not to be applied across the board:

Ossur Cheetah Flex Sprint III

“The panel’s decision has absolutely no application to any other athlete, or other type of prosthetic limb.

Each case must be considered by the I.A.A.F. on its own merits. The ruling does not grant a blanket license to other single or double amputees to compete in I.A.A.F.-sanctioned events using Cheetah Flex-Foot Prosthetics or indeed any other type of prosthesis.”

It does seem unlikely, however, that another athlete using the Cheetah® Sprint Feet (manufactured by Ossur) would be refused entry to the Olympic Games without considerably more research. Whether or not it is correct, the situations will surely be reassessed when an athlete with prosthetics or other artificial aids is out-competing their able-bodied ‘un-assisted’ opponents.

For now, the Beijing Olympic Games look likely to benefit from the participation of another superb athlete and great character. The Blade Runner rides again.

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The Road to Beijing is a phrase many will be familiar this year. But today Bob came across a rather appropriate use of this pun, by the British Paralympic Association (BPA) – www.paralympics.org.uk/RoadToBeijing

With nice use of Google maps, the BPA have charted the route from London to Beijing that their athletes, and they are encouraging supporters to complete a mile for sponsorship. (Another nice use of Google maps is Dan Beekman’s Bloggin Beijing interactive map.)

Road To Beijing Paralympics

“The idea is simple. Get behind our ParalympicsGB Team, complete a mile of your choice, collect sponsorship and get yourself on the map. The more miles completed, the closer we get to Beijing.”

It would be interesting to know the difference in funding between the BPA and the BOA; fund raising is clearly more of a priority from the BPA. This is not a plea for sponsorship, simply highlighting a nice idea. Of course there are plenty worse ways to spend your time and money…

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