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Posts Tagged ‘2008 Olympics’

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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Guest post by Jordan Hirsch

In mid–March, several days of peaceful demonstrations against Chinese rule exploded into violent rioting in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa. On March 17th, as China engaged in the bloodiest period of its crackdown against the protestors, International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge circulated an internal memo to IOC officials, outlining a communications strategy. “China’s involvement in Tibet strictly concerns its social and political policy,” Rogge stated in the memo. “It is not related to the country’s hosting of the Games, nor to its relationship with the IOC.” Most importantly, Rogge ruled out any direct IOC involvement either in condemning China’s response or mediating an end to the conflict. The IOC would remain silent.

Will The Olympics Bring Change in China (or Should They)?But certainly the Olympics and politics go hand–in–hand. Countries compete to host the Olympics for obvious political reasons: to kindle national pride, gain international prestige, and stimulate their economies. The kidnapping and murder of eleven Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists in the 1972 Munich Games, and the years of Olympic boycotts from 1976–84 clearly evince the political nature of the Games. And, doubtless, the IOC has made politically driven decisions in selecting host countries. It rejected China’s 1993 bid for the 2000 Games only four years after the Tiananmen Square massacre.

Even the Olympic Charter seems to call for the promotion of liberal political ideals, including “the establishment of a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity,” a rejection of any “discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, sex, or otherwise,” and the use of sport to inculcate “value of peace, justice, mutual understanding, and international friendship.”

When the IOC granted the 1988 Summer Games to South Korea, then under a repressive military dictatorship, critics accused it of once again awarding the Olympics to an authoritarian regime that consistently violated human rights.

The critics were right about South Korea’s authoritarianism, but the Seoul Games ultimately contributed to South Korea’s rapid and largely peaceful transformation to democracy in 1987. Indeed, the Seoul Games seem to demonstrate that the Olympics can help to initiate progressive political change. As the Beijing Olympics approach and world leaders remain at odds over how to respond, then, what lessons can the international community draw from the history of Seoul 1988?

South Korea’s bid for the Olympics in 1980 served a number of political purposes for the ruling regime. The country had enjoyed rapid economic growth in the 1960s and ’70s, yet the prosperity had not brought with it political liberalization. When South Korean President Park Chung–hee was assassinated in 1979, another military junta, led by General Chun Doo–hwan, assumed power and continued the repressive policies. But South Koreans—especially students—vigorously opposed Chun’s new dictatorship, and began protesting at college campuses across the country. In May 1980, as South Korea prepared its Olympic bid, South Korean students and citizens flooded the streets of the city of Kwangju in a massive pro–democracy rally. The government responded with overwhelming force, with opposition leaders declaring that it had killed nearly 2,000 protestors in one week.

With a bloody stain upon its record so early in its political life, the government sought to use the Olympics to enhance its legitimacy at home and abroad.

Once South Korea won its bid for the Games, outside media descended upon the country and gave voice to dissident students and politicians. Taken by surprise and unprepared to confront the empowered opposition, the government buckled under the pressure and began making concessions.

Alongside the media attention, high–level diplomacy by the (nominally non–political) IOC proved to be the other decisive factor. By the spring of 1987, South Korea had arrived at a crucial juncture. The government had suspended debate over constitutional reforms, and the country nearly ground to a halt as South Koreans from all ages and classes united in protest.

IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch made a high profile visit to Seoul to mediate between the two sides. According to historian Richard Pound, Samaranch, a former Spanish diplomat, “had never been shy about injecting himself and the Olympic movement into world events.” Only two days after Samaranch’s visit, the South Korean government made its famous June 29th Declaration, agreeing to all of the opposition’s demands and giving way to the first democratic elections in South Korean history.

Much like South Korea, China has invested heavy political capital in the Games, taking the unprecedented steps of inviting over fifty world leaders to the opening ceremonies and crafting the longest tour of the Olympic torch in history. This is leverage that the international community has over China, especially in light of China’s still unfulfilled promises to expand media freedom.

Yet the differences between China and South Korea remain stark. China, as an incipient superpower, enjoys far larger economic and political clout. Significantly the Chinese regime is far more ideologically entrenched than were the South Korean generals and can invoke a long history of struggle for popular justice and [against] foreign intervention.”

What’s more, despite its success, Samaranch’s intervention in South Korean affairs raises questions about whether the IOC should engage in diplomacy. Under Samaranch’s model, the Olympics might become a vast political spotlight, shipped purposefully to oppressive regimes to bear international pressure upon them and induce economic and political liberalization. Such an agenda–driven Olympics, without any pretense of political abstinence, might provoke a backlash against the Games from non–Western countries and rob the Games of their universal respect—the very element that empowers their potential for moral leadership in the first place.

In advance of the Beijing Games in August, the IOC has focused its energies on maintaining the idea that the Olympics are “hallowed ground” not to be disturbed by geopolitics. Yet the example set by the South Korean Games establishes that the Olympics can, if unevenly, maintain the balance between its inherent contradiction: steering clear of politics, and upholding its principles of struggling against discrimination and promoting peace, justice, and cooperation.

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What a busy day it has been in London; the Olympic torch ran the gauntlet of the city streets as has the Beijing Olympics Blog.

For full coverage of the protests the BBC has been the most up-to-date and comprehensive news source today. The photos below show some of the stories of the day from the streets.

Torch Relay – Celebrations

Although in most parts of London anti-Beijing protesters managed to overshadow the torch relay, in Chinatown the atmosphere was much more one of celebration. The local Chinese community were certainly happy to welcome the Olympic flame, and the entertainment was also excellent! See these celebrations in full video too.

Torch Relay – Chinatown flagsChinatown flags

A solitary woman with a Tibetan flag was the only sign of protest against the Olympics in Chinatown. Her presence was understandably treated somewhat hostilely, and flag bearers from London Chinatown Chinese Association attempted to hide her flag with their own; an interesting metaphor, perhaps?

Torch Relay – Local support

Torch Relay - Local support

The atmosphere in Chinatown was good, as the cold weather failed to suppress high spirits. Local businesses, including the Everwell Chinese medicine shop, were out to show their support for Beijing.

Torch Relay – High security

Torch Relay – High security

The heavy security surrounding the torch relay did impair the experience for spectators, as the passing torch could barely be seen behind the ranks of police. The Chinese ambassador was apparently bearing the torch for the Chinatown leg, but you would never have known.

Torch Relay – Face-off

Torch Relay – Face-off

As ‘pro-Tibet’ protesters and ‘pro-China’ protesters converged in Whitehall, from the directions of Parliament Square and Trafalgar Square respectively, there was a face off between the groups on opposite sides of the road. From one side came the Chinese national anthem and chants of ‘China, China’ while the other side chanted ‘Free Tibet’ and ‘Shame on China’.

Torch Relay – Debate

Torch Relay – Debate

As ‘pro-Tibet’ and ‘pro-China’ protesters mingled in Whitehall some engaged in debate, arguing their respective causes. This is the kind of exchange that should be happening much more, and that unfortunately seems so difficult within China. Bob would like to congratulate both men pictured for engaging in dialogue.

Torch Relay – Chinese supporters

Torch Relay – Chinese supporters

The media coverage has been dominated by the presence of pro-Tibetan protesters and others with grievances with the Chinese authorities, but the presence of large numbers of supporters of the Beijing Olympics was also striking.

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Welcome to Beijing New Year celebrations

Chinese New Year celebrations peaked this weekend, and what better way to mark them than with some pictures of the colour-rich celebrations. In London people paraded through Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square and China Town in the largest celebrations outside Asia.

China Town Chun Jie lanterns

With just 6 months to go to the Olympics (178 days as this is written) it’s no surprise that the FuWa were prevelent in the decorations.

The Olympics were understandably the dominant theme for celebrations

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