Ordinary Chinese get set for bigger challenges
As the country revels in the global spotlight and takes pride in its athletes, citizens say they’re ready for more sacrifices if that means confronting issues like the environment, social reform and widespread poverty
From Monday’s Globe and Mail
August 25, 2008 at 5:03 AM EDT
BEIJING — Even as they bade an emotional farewell to the Olympics last night, China’s proud citizens were gearing up for bigger battles to come: environmental challenges, economic inequities and social reforms.
This is a country that savoured immensely its athletic triumphs, its 51 gold medals and its two weeks of glory in the global spotlight. But as they celebrated last night, many Chinese acknowledged the long fight ahead on poverty, pollution and inflation.
Many said they were willing to accept further sacrifices – including factory shutdowns and drastic limits on car traffic – to preserve the environmental gains that were achieved during the Olympics.
At dozens of parks and outdoor plazas across Beijing last night, thousands of people gathered to watch the closing ceremony on giant television screens. At the Temple of Earth, about 500 people waved Chinese flags, sang along lustily to the Chinese national anthem, screamed at Chinese pop idols, swayed to the ballads and cheered noisily for Yao Ming and other Chinese athletes.
“I feel very proud to be a Chinese,” said Li Changcun, a 21-year-old university student who travelled to Beijing from remote Qinghai province to share the Olympic atmosphere.
“These Olympics were really exciting and very moving,” she said. “Everyone in the faraway regions of China was watching the Olympics on television every day. It left a grand impression on us. It makes Chinese people more confident in the world, and more influential.”
But like many other spectators at the temple park last night, Ms. Li believes the country still has a long way to go. “I hope the world doesn’t think that China is a rich developed nation,” she said. “We still have many poor regions, outside the big cities. China’s next goal should be to improve the life of its ordinary people.”
After heavy smog and haze at the beginning of the Olympics, Beijing enjoyed blue skies for much of the Olympic period. The city government revealed yesterday that it might extend the drastic traffic restrictions after their scheduled end on Sept. 20.
“We want to hear more public opinion on whether, or how, to keep the rule,” said Wang Li, deputy director of Beijing’s traffic administration bureau, in an interview with China Daily.
Many people in Beijing say they support the idea, despite the continued sacrifices it would require from motorists who were required to leave their cars at home on alternating days throughout the Olympics.
“I own a car, but I understand and support this policy of bringing back the blue skies,” said Wang Zilu, a 59-year-old teacher who was watching the closing ceremony at the Temple of Earth last night.
He worries that the success of the Olympics will convince the rest of the world that China is too powerful to need any help in the future. “I’m afraid they will stop giving us foreign aid because they think we are not poor any more. It’s wrong. I grew up in the countryside, and I know how hard the rural life is. Some farmers are still very poor.”
China is too preoccupied with saving face and concealing its social problems, he said. “But we’re making progress. Some major social problems are disclosed in the media and then they get solved. I’m confident that China will become more and more open in every field.”
Wang Disheng, a 38-year-old civil servant, says China’s next goal, after the Olympics, should be to solve its economic and social problems, especially inflation, the slumping stock market and the environment.
“I hope some of the new traffic restrictions can be continued as long-term policies,” he said. “Everyone can see how great the weather is these days. I have a car of my own, but I’m willing to bicycle to my office every second day. It makes me healthier, it improves the air and it saves money on gasoline, too.”
With a report from Yu Mei in Beijing
Tallying the human cost of the Beijing Games
August 25, 2008
BEIJING — If there was an alternative Olympic medal list for human-rights violations, it would contain numbers like these: 53 detained pro-Tibet activists, 77 rejected protest applications, at least 15 Chinese citizens arrested for seeking to protest, about 10 dissidents jailed and at least 30 websites blocked.
These were a few of the numbers that emerged yesterday as rights advocates did their final tally of the human cost of the Beijing Olympics.
China promised to allow protests at three designated zones in Beijing during the Olympics, but it refused to accept any of the 77 protest applications from 149 individuals. Instead, it arrested at least 15 people who asked for permission to protest in the official zones, according to a count by a Paris-based press freedom group, Reporters Without Borders.
Among those arrested were two frail pensioners, 77 and 79 years old, who were interrogated for 10 hours and then sentenced to a year of “re-education through labour.” They were permitted to serve their one-year sentences at home, but their movements were restricted and they were warned that they could be sent to a labour camp if they violate any rules.
At least 50 human-rights activists were expelled from Beijing, harassed or placed under house arrest during the Olympics, according to Reporters Without Borders. It also estimated that 30 websites were blocked in China during the Beijing Games, including human-rights sites and news sites.
“This repression will be remembered as one of the defining characteristics of the Beijing Games,” said the group’s secretary-general, Robert Ménard, in a report this weekend.
The Foreign Correspondents Club of China, based in Beijing, kept count of the number of foreign journalists who were hindered or roughed up by the Chinese authorities during the Games. It found more than 30 cases of government interference in the reporting work of foreign media since the opening of the Olympic Media Centre on July 25. It is investigating another 20 reported incidents.
The interference included 10 cases of journalists being beaten or roughed up by police who sometimes smashed their cameras, the association said. It said it was “alarmed” at the use of violence and intimidation against journalists. “The host government has not lived up to its Olympic promise that the media will be completely free to report on all aspects of China,” it said.
Students for a Free Tibet, which organized a series of protests in Beijing during the Olympics, says a total of 53 pro-Tibet activists have been detained and deported from China since Aug. 6 after participating in protests or observing or supporting them. The activists were from Canada, the United States, Germany, Australia and Japan, as well as three Tibetans with foreign passports.
In addition, two pro-Tibet activists are still in jail in Beijing after being arrested last Thursday. Eight activists were deported from China yesterday after being detained for several days.
None of their brief protests were shown on China’s state-controlled television channels.
China used the Olympic ceremonies to try to legitimize its control of Tibet, the student group said. Tibetans were portrayed “singing and dancing” among groups of other happy ethnic minorities at the ceremonies, it noted.
About Geoffrey York
Correspondent, Globe and Mail’s Beijing bureau chief
Mr. York is a graduate of Carleton University who has been a Globe and Mail reporter since 1981. He has been a foreign correspondent for the newspaper since 1994.
He was the Moscow bureau chief from 1994 to 2002. He has been the Beijing bureau chief since 2002. He is a veteran war correspondent who has covered war zones since 1991 in places such as Somalia, Sudan, Chechnya, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Balkans and the Palestinian Territories.
He is the author of three books, including two books on aboriginal issues in Canada. He has received several journalistic awards, including nominations for National Newspaper Awards.
Breathtaking finale caps China’s effort to court world
Aileen McCabe, Canwest News Service
Published: Sunday, August 24, 2008
BEIJING — The XXlX Olympiad began with a throbbing drumbeat and ended with a bang of firecrackers large enough to light up the Beijing skyline.
It was a party inside the fabulous Bird’s Nest, with much of the choreographed wonder of the opening ceremony replaced by unscripted fun.
The athletes looked happiest of all when they trooped helter skelter onto the field, waving and mugging at the crowd and cameras, blowing kisses and happily showing off their medals.
In many ways, director Zhang Yimou’s two-hour show matched their exuberance.
There were acrobats, stunt men on springs, unicyclists playing basketball, cheerleaders and rockers who brought the crowd of over 90,000 alive. His cast of 7,000 put on an epic, often breathtaking performance.
When it came time to hand off to London, the host of the 2012 Games, the Brits didn’t even try to compete. Instead, they drove a red double-decker bus onto the field and simply gave the crowd something to cheer about: soccer great, David Beckham.
Sunday’s closing ceremony capped three weeks of unstinting effort by China to court the world. Never has so much national hope been pinned on a single sporting event.
It’s early days, but from the point of view of many ordinary Chinese, there is no doubt the country’s $40-billion gamble paid off.
“The Olympics were a great success,” 19-year old Jiang said without hesitation. “Beijing’s image will be remembered by people from all over the world. A smiling Beijing, a civilized Beijing, a Beijing that serves the Olympics.
“These images will stay and continue,” the freshman at the Beijing University of Traditional Medicine said.
Like Jiang, Lou, an employee at the Shangri-La hotel group, did not want to give his full name, but he had no problem voicing his opinion.
“These Olympics improved China’s image in the world. . . . These Olympics showed an open China, a rising China and a peace-loving China,” he said.
Like most Chinese, Lou thinks China got a bad rap over the riots in Tibet and the crackdown that followed, but he is optimistic the Olympics will remedy such “mistakes.”
“Our life is pretty good, I think” and the 20,000-plus media covering the Olympics must have seen that, he said.
“I think that after the Olympics, reporters will be less biased because so many of them have now seen China with their own eyes.”
International Olympic Committee chief Jacques Rogge’s analysis was much the same when he reviewed the Games with reporters and commented: “China has learned about the world and the world has learned about China.”
Neither Jiang nor Lou could know about many of the controversies that dogged these Games, particularly the government’s farcical refusal to allow protests. The story of the two elderly women sentenced to one-year of labour for daring to apply for an official permit to demonstrate against their eviction from and subsequent demolition of their homes was not reported in Chinese media. The version of the Olympics they have been fed is very nearly without warts.
But warts there were, and Daniel A. Bell, a professor at Beijing’s Tsinghua University, insists you would have to be naive not to have expected them.
“In a way, the Western governments and human rights groups that expected the Olympics per se to bring out openness, had it backwards,” the Montreal-born academic said.
“For the Chinese government – and I think there was substantial popular support for this view – the overriding priority was to secure a stable social and political environment during the Olympics. They erred on the side of caution in such matters as security, but things should open up after the Olympics,” he said.
Bell is not alone in his views. Many China watchers feared that if the Olympics went badly for China, if terrorism or massive demonstrations grabbed the headlines, the country might climb back into its shell of paranoia and distrust.
Successful Games, they argued, would give the leadership confidence to continue and expand the policy of openness it is cautiously embarked upon.
Don’t expect to see that happen at breakneck speed or without more little old ladies being trampled, however.
As Bell put it: “The Chinese government’s behaviour does not always help, to say the least. The rest of the world will only be convinced of China’s new openness once it also shows more openness to its own citizens, including critics of the government’s policies.”
Chinese set the new athletic standard
Bruce Arthur, National Post
Published: Sunday, August 24, 2008
BEIJING — From the moment Yao Ming strode into the magical Bird’s Nest Stadium at the Opening Ceremony, towering above every other of the thousands of athletes in attendance, this was China’s Olympics, China’s Games. It was always going to be thus – China poured an estimated US$43-billion into Beijing 2008, and funded their athletes to match. This was the flexing of muscles, literally and figuratively, of an emerging colossus. This was China’s message to the world.
The message was delivered most effectively via the podium. The United States won the most medals at these Olympics, but China, breathing athletic fire, simply won more and bigger than anybody else. This time, they leaped several rungs, standing atop 51 podiums, hearing 51 Chinese anthems played. No country had won 50 golds since the Soviet Union did it in 1988. Before that, no country had done it in a non-boycott Games since 1972, when the U.S.S.R also reached the mark.
Then there are total medals. In 2004, China had 64 medals overall; this time, they won 100, 10 fewer that the 31-gold Americans, in sports across the spectrum. They won a windsurfing medal, for goodness sakes. Between that and the beach volleyball – a silver and a bronze there – a Chinese version of The OC should get put into production any day now.
So who wins the Games? The U.S., not surprisingly, tends to say the measure is total hardware, but the IOC says gold is the standard. Which makes sense, because gold means you won.
“[Fifty-one] golds may be surprising, but compare it with 1.3-billion people [in China],” Yao said this week. “I think it’s pretty normal.”
The scary part is that it is, and that, in the end, is what will propel this still-young sporting dynasty. What country is better suited to prolonged athletic dominance than China? Talent identification at an early age, a rigidly organized infrastructure of sports schools, government funding as long as you produce, and the forced retention of those elite athletes who might be tempted to retire early. And this conveyer belt has, at one end, 1.3 billion candidates for excellence. They treat them like horses, but the horses do run.
Not all of China’s gold is above suspicion, of course. The Chinese weightlifters won eight events, many in dominant fashion – in the women’s 69-kilogram category, Liu Chunhong won by 31 kilos, or not quite the weight of gymnast He Kexin. He, along with gymnasts Jiang Yuyuan and Yang Yilin, are believed to be below the minimum age of 16, and supporting documents have been steadily unearthed by the media and enterprising computer hackers. The three accounted for four medals.
The IOC, supine and bought, barely bothered to investigate the gymnasts, until the end of the Games, and even then, did so half-heartedly. It seems US$43-billion buys a lot.
And that’s not all. In swimming, an unknown 19-year-old named Liu Zige won the 200-metre butterfly, breaking the world record by 1.22 seconds, and a Polish coach told The New York Times that in a sport where there are no secret stars, the result was “not rational.” On the subject, if any country could produce a BALCO-like steroid laboratory without BALCO-like investigations – Who is going to investigate? The FBI? – it is China.
This is just the beginning. The 119 project, which identified medal rich sports that China could pursue – rowing, swimming, track and field, sailing and canoe/kayak – yielded 16 medals, despite an injury to hurdling star Liu Xiang. The Chinese were already dominant in gymnastics, diving, table tennis, and badminton. But now they have broadened their focus, and their results.
And few sports will escape. Here, China won gold in women’s trampoline, and gold and bronze in men’s trampoline. Canada’s trampoline coach, Dave Ross, tells the story.
“In 1998, it was officially announced that trampoline would become an Olympic sport in the 2000 Games,” said Ross. “And at the 1998 world championships, China brought 20 coaches with their video cameras and their tape recorders and their clipboards, and they watched all the warmups and all the competitions. And they opened up 20 national training centres, and hired 20 coaches, most from the former Soviet Union, to spend four years teaching the Chinese coaches how to coach.
“Within a year they had people competing and doing weird stuff, because they didn’t have experience. Within four or five years they had athletes doing really elegant routines. They were putting more into the sport – the 20 national training centres compete against each other for spots on the Olympic team, and for funding money, and if a coach [discovers an eventual medal winner], that coach gets a raise and a better apartment and all that kind of stuff. Basically, they have imported the Soviet system … using all the capitalist incentives in your sports delivery system to prove that socialism works.
“The world – it’s going to be difficult competing against the Chinese.”
That is for a sport with two gold medals, both of which Chinese athletes won. There are more to win. At the Closing Ceremony, one last eloquent case for a Chinese century was made, with the beating of drums and whirling illumination, flying men and climbing men, flame and song. It was the culmination of China’s Olympics, China’s Games.
The era of American sporting dominance is over. The sports world – and maybe more – will soon belong to China. At these Olympics, the fervor for sponsor protection extends everywhere, even to the bathrooms. On every toilet and every urinal, a piece of silver-grey tape covers the name of the manufacturer. Underneath, it says American Standard.
Olympic facade couldn’t hide China’s flaws
Mark Spector, National Post
Published: Sunday, August 24, 2008
BEIJING — There are thousands of welds that bond together the steel girders which form the skeleton of the Bird’s Nest. As a body of work, it is truly a magnificent stadium.
Step a little closer though, and you can see some cracks beginning to show in those welds. The eventuality of rust is evident even now, only hours after the flame has gone out over China’s Olympic Games.
We are not suggesting collapse is imminent. But it sets the metaphor for an Olympiad that looked so good from afar, yet surely did not always bear close inspection quite so well.
The world will remember China’s marvelous facilities: the Bird’s Nest, one of the most visually tantalizing stadiums in history; the incredible Water Cube, a building whose walls danced like our Northern Lights every evening; and a passel of stadiums that were wonderfully built and – unlike in Athens – nearly full every night and day.
But what of the people displaced by the Chinese government, forced to relocate to make room for all of these beautiful buildings? Where did they go? And why, when there were government-assigned parks for licensed protest, did so very few of these protests ever actually take place?
And what of those who died in the construction process, in numbers that nobody will likely ever be able to pin down? Or those who survived it, but disappeared back into the countryside before the world arrived to inhabit their work?
Didn’t anybody save a ticket for them?
There were cracks in China’s Olympics that all these questions seemed to fall into. And they were soundproof, to be sure, with any hint of negative public display quelled in record time, no matter what the issue or who the protester.
The profile of the Free Tibet movement that was supposed to be influential in these Games never reached the first tee. Why? How?
Two more questions to add to a list that we will leave China with, never quite satisfied that we’re getting the truth.
The Olympic experience quickly teaches you that the worst time to really get to know a city is when it is hosting the Games. Because that is when it trying desperately to be anything but itself.
Some close down industry, others limit traffic. They all smile ceaselessly.
China did it all and then some, and as we pack up and leave a Games that seemed to mean so much to every single person here, we are still in no position to know whether these Olympics gave us any kind of accurate impression of China.
Clearly, we saw the beautiful pictures that a Communist government wanted us to see. How can you not be suspicious, though, when you consider how this all began back on a steamy, sweaty Friday, Aug. 8.
While the Opening Ceremony and its nearly 15,000 performers dazzled down on the stadium floor, organizers were silently hoping that no one would wander backstage and talk to the extras.
Games officials used computer-generated images to enhance the fireworks display on television. They had a nine-year-old girl lip synch their Ode to the Motherland because the little girl whose voice they wanted to use had buck teeth.
She wasn’t cute enough, they decided. (Not that any but the prettiest young girl in Vancouver would get such a role two years from now.)
And those 2,200 men in white outfits, who kicked and lunged in incredible unison? They were forced to live in an army barracks for three months and to practise for 16 hours a day on average. Many were sickened or injured in the process.
So we hope you enjoyed the Ceremony, the Olympic movement’s answer to those expensive running shoes that were made by children in a foreign sweatshop.
After the Opening, the Games were an organizational masterpiece from stem to stern. Beijing will be unanimously accepted as the new standard for construction readiness and buses you could set your watch by, and it was marked by an ability to handle any crisis with sheer manpower.
No tray went un-emptied by a cafeteria volunteer. No question was left unanswered at help desks that were staffed to within an inch of their lives. And no Port-A-Potty went unserviced, with attendants actually sleeping through the night in pup tents set up on the sidewalk, right next to the row of public toilets that was their responsibility.
Athens was laissez-faire four years before, with soldiers manning the security entrances far more concerned with the cigarette they were smoking than whatever it was they feigned to be searching for. And London in 2012? Good luck doing with a smaller budget what the Chinese did with almost US$45-billion here.
In Beijing, you couldn’t swing a cat without hitting a Chinese soldier wearing crisp white gloves, his back straighter than straight, and guarding … well, guarding something, we guess.
These Olympics were structured, methodical and hyper-efficient. And charmless, sadly, though charm is a word that Chairman Mao placed little emphasis on, we’re thinking. For what it’s worth, there wasn’t a lot of fun to be had here, or at least that is the consensus among my peers.
Sydney had its harbour, teeming with great restaurants and beautiful people. Athens had The Placa, where the hours between about 11:30 p.m. and 5 a.m. mysteriously passed in the time it took to drink a couple of Mythos beers.
Beijing? If temples, giant Commie squares and Forbidden Cities are your thing – in 33 C heat and 85% humidity – then this was Nirvana.
But in a city of nearly 14 million, there has to be more fun than most of us found here, which to be fair could be a facet of deadlines tough enough to nudge sleep past carousing, even in a sportswriter’s list of priorities.
We’ve hit the wall, and we’ve hit The Wall.
It was an honour to visit, but at the same time, long, predictable and sweaty.
Really, not unlike the last three weeks.
Can the Olympic effect linger?
August 25, 2008
BEIJING–After 17 days of spectacle and sport, the Olympic flame was extinguished at the Bird’s Nest National Stadium last night.
But will its embers of influence continue to burn?
If there was an enduring set of images, a striking contrast, that emerged from the closing ceremonies, it was the boundless energy of youth bursting forth on the floor, while the stolid faces of Communist Party officials – mostly dour middle-aged men – looked on.
It was a complete disconnect. And you were left to wonder: Have these men harnessed a power that might overrun them in the long term?
Once the choreographed portion of the program was past – a beautiful display of uniformity in numbers – the real stars of the show, the athletes, took to the field and suddenly it was all about free expression and individuality.
The athletes were having fun.
The Chinese people loved it.
Bringing the Games to Beijing was all about giving China a chance to strut its stuff on the world stage. China did that and more – on the playing field and off. It won the most gold medals, it wowed TV viewers worldwide and it shut down and jailed its critics at home.
But it also opened the door wide to the world. And the world rushed in.
Never in modern times has China had so many foreigners in the country at one time. Never has the world media been allowed to send in so many reporters, lavish so much attention on the country or have so much contact with its citizens.
“The world has learned about China and China has learned about the world,” International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said yesterday. “I believe this is something that will have positive effects in the long term.”
The power of sport as a vehicle of international influence – primarily Western influence – can’t be underestimated.
The most popular sport among Chinese youth today isn’t table tennis or ping pong – but basketball.
“Chinese youth follow the NBA with a passion,” sports writer Yi Xiashe told me last year. “Young people feel the NBA is about a new, cool culture – everything that is fresh, different, modern.”
Chinese youth want all of that.
You needed to be here to see it up close: as foreign medallists left the podium, youthful Chinese volunteers swarmed them for autographs. On the streets and in the stands, Chinese people were awed and delighted by the boisterous nature of foreign fans: their face painting, their outlandish wearing of flags. In a country where authoritarian rule reigns, such flamboyance – even at this level – is rare.
And when soccer god David Beckham booted a ball into the crowd as part of a promo for London’s 2012 Games, one young volunteer gathered it up and hung onto it as though it were a gold medal.
Chinese people are likely to cling to some of that foreign influence.
But that’s not to say there wasn’t a worrying downside to these Games.
The stunning opening ceremonies left world audiences wondering “why so much fakery?”
All but one of the televised 29 “steps” of fireworks leading to the stadium were produced in the studio and not real; the 56 children “from 56 ethnic minorities” were mainly from the Han majority; and – infamously – little Lin Miaoke didn’t actually sing “Ode to the Motherland,” but a talented little girl named Yang Peiyi did.
But there was another, more troubling narrative that paralleled these Games, one human rights groups believe will forever tarnish their legacy: the detention, disappearance and jailing of Chinese citizens deemed troublesome by the state.
One of those is Zeng Jinyan, wife of jailed rights activist Hu Jia. Zeng was under house arrest when she disappeared the day before the opening ceremonies. At the time, she was caring for her 8-month-old baby. Neither has been seen since.
Beijing holds gold medal sign-off
London takes on the 2012 Summer Olympic mantle following star-studded ceremony
August 25, 2008
BEIJING–The closing ceremony for China’s spectacular Summer Olympic Games didn’t begin until 8 p.m. local time yesterday.
But they pretty much summed up the whole experience at 6:47 p.m. when the loudspeakers at the Bird’s Nest stadium blared out a certain mega-hit by the band Queen.
“We Are The Champions,” indeed.
The Chinese gave their Games a rousing send-off, with another indescribable display of pyrotechnics, pride and pomp. With a world-beating 100 medals, 51 of them gold, to their credit, you could hardly blame them.
It lacked the pageantry of the opening ceremony from 16 days prior, but that’s to be expected. After all, it’s London’s turn for the summer festival next time around.
The mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who goes by the nickname “Bo Jo,” took the Olympic flag from IOC president Jacques Rogge and waved it in the air as part of the handover for 2012.
A giant, bright red double-decker bus motored around the stadium as images of bobbies and rockers and umbrellas and old-fashioned phone booths flashed on the screen.
The bus opened to reveal singer Leona Lewis and guitar hero Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin, who played “Whole Lotta Love” while Lewis took the part of Robert Plant and sang the words, dropping the “gonna give you every inch of my love” part at the request of the prudish Chinese government.
Soccer icon David Beckham also briefly appeared and kicked a soccer ball to a lucky volunteer on the stadium floor.
Trampolinist Karen Cockburn of Toronto, one of only five athletes in Canadian history to win medals in three straight games (bronze in Sydney and silver in Athens and in Beijing), proudly shouldered the Canadian flag into the cavernous stadium.
“I’ve gone to three Olympics now and they’ve all been special in their own way,” she said. “But I think Beijing has just done a superb job of all the little details and my entire team has enjoyed themselves here.”
Canada finished with 18 total medals, tied for 14th with Spain in overall medals. It was the best showing for Canadians since collecting 22 medals in Atlanta in 1996 and was a large improvement over the even-dozen brought back from Athens four years ago. But Canada earned just three gold medals; good only for a tie for 19th.
Speaking earlier in the day, Rogge said it was a good call to give the games to China. Beijing, of course, defeated Toronto and several other cities for the right to stage the 2008 Summer Olympics.
Rogge said the Beijing Games weren’t perfect. But he said they went a long way to improve the city’s environment and to build bridges between the rest of the world and a Chinese nation many still feel is wrapped in mystery.
“China has learned about the world,” he said at the ceremony, “and the world has learned about China.
“Athletes from 204 National Olympic Committees came to these dazzling venues and awed us with their talent. New stars were born. Stars from past Games amazed us again. We shared their joys and their tears, and we marvelled at their ability.
“These,” he said, “were truly exceptional games.”
Rogge told reporters that China is more open to the media than before. He admitted there were restrictions on Internet access but insisted the IOC has no control over that issue.
He did, however, express surprise that none of the 77 applications for use of Beijing’s official protest zones were approved.
“We found it unusual that none of these applications came through with protests,” he said, choosing his words with extreme care but clearly giving the Chinese a small jab. “We have inquired with the authorities, who said the protests and the queries of the citizens have been met in mutual agreement.”
Rogge declined to intervene in the case of two elderly Chinese women who were sentenced to house arrest for protesting the destruction of their former homes to make way for Olympic facilities. The IOC was told it was a matter of Chinese law.
“The IOC is not a sovereign organization,” he said. “We have to respect Chinese law.”
The politics were likely the last thing on anyone’s mind yesterday, especially not the folks from London, who have a tough act to follow.
Next up, however, is the small matter of the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Game on, Vancouver.
It just didn’t measure up
These Olympics were perfectly staged, and the competition brilliant, but they lacked joy
Mon, August 25, 2008
By STEVE SIMMONS
BEIJING — The face of the Olympic Games was a smiling, youthful and helpful volunteer.
The spirit was found inside the most spectacular venues the Games ever have seen, each of them individual, different and very close to perfect, almost all of them full.
The logistics — always the greatest challenge in putting on an event of this magnitude — now stand as a template for the future. Everything ran on time: Just about everyone arrived on time.
And all the problems the alarmists and non-alarmists anticipated and predicted — heat, pollution, air quality, protests, security — made for all kinds of noise in the building up the Beijing Games, but none of them proved significant over the past 17 days.
So why, as I leave here today, am I slightly ambivalent and feeling detached about the striking show the Chinese have put on? It’s not easy to explain.
The best of Olympic Games connect between city and venue, sport and the public, a party in the venues, a party outside of them. It was that way in Sydney eight years ago and that way in the Winter Games in Norway in 1994, in Calgary in 1988.
Inside the Olympic barricades and fences here — and the barricades basically were everywhere — the Games succeeded at a level no one could have anticipated.
Outside the barricades, though, the story changed. There was a lack of passion, an unemotional detachment, a Games so perfect and yet so disconnected.
So we award a gold for everything that was Olympian — except maybe the inability to adequately get people in and out of the 90,000-seat National Stadium — but only a bronze for the experience, or perhaps a familiar Canadian fourth-place finish for these Games of Beijing for the most clinical, best organized, most efficient and effective Summer Games in history.
The Games that did everything right except make you happy.
These were the Games of precision, somehow lacking in joy and, moreso, in fun.
And these were the Olympics where the stars came out to play.
Ah, oh, what stars there were. Michael Phelps owned the Games in Week 1 and passed it metaphorically to sprinter Usain Bolt in Week 2.
Combined, they won 11 gold medals and smashed 10 world records in the process. And when Bolt tried to breathe some life into the Olympics, he was quickly admonished by International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge.
We can’t have fun here. And outside of Bolt, not many did.
In between, both Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer won gold medals in tennis — and how was that going to be possible? — and Kobe Bryant, playing the part of rock star in the strange combination of a city old and new, east and west, took home gold with the U.S. basketball team where he needed to be the star.
The saddest moment of the Games, without question, came when Chinese hurdler Liu Xiang, the defending gold-medal winner in the 110-metre hurdles, was forced to withdraw from the heats in his event. He and his country suffered an achilles injury simultaneously and just about everyone cried.
In spite of the prediction of the IOC’s Rogge that there would be 40 positive drug tests here, this was unusual: There were 10 positive drug tests, six human, four horses. That either represents progress in sport or progress in chemistry.
The Chinese had their controversies, though, just not the ones we anticipated. Their largest athletic question was the age of the minute-sized gymnastics team they employed here, Documents may or may not have been forged: Those questions won’t go away.
Still you wonder: The diver who beat Emilie Heymans for gold weighed 66 pounds. The diver who won bronze weighed 62 pounds. Combined, the two divers weighed 128 pounds, nine pounds fewer than the rather trim and shapely Heymans. This didn’t seem right in gymnastics or in diving, where the Chinese won 18 of their Olympic-leading 51 gold medals.
Today, the rest of the world begins to leave crowded Beijing. We will miss those sweet hellos, friendly smiles, and good mornings everywhere you turned or went, the bows, the doors being opened, the arguing over price in the market, the five people doing the job of one.
A confession: After all I had read, I truly expected to hate my time in China, dislike covering my 12th Olympic Games. But I leave here pondering what could have been.
The Games themselves were wondrous, as they tend to be. And with a little more laughter, a little more fun, a little more life, and a few less restrictions, these could have been the greatest Olympics ever.
It was that close, that possible.
Three things Steve Simmons found surprising while at the Beijing Olympics
– Historically dominant Team USA losing softball final to Japan.
– Seemingly unflappable flag-bearer Adam van Koeverden succumbing to the pressure and falling apart in his two kayak events.
– Enigmatic Emilie Heymans leaving her past behind and diving brilliantly, coming within one dive of gold.
A forgettable ending
After a fantastic opener, the closing ceremony lacked joy
Mon, August 25, 2008
By TERRY JONES
BEIJING — An IOC president never was supposed to say something like this again.
After Juan Antonio Samaranch, unable to think of anything positive to say in the place where the IOC head previously had declared the Games to be “the greatest ever,” he called the Atlanta 1996 disaster “remarkable.” That’s when the IOC placed a ban on the tradition of referring to every Olympics as the best ever.
Jacques Rogge said the heck with it and declared Beijing 2008 to be brilliant and did everything but use the term “best ever” as he declared the Games of the XXIX Olympiad closed yesterday.
“Tonight, we come to the end of 16 glorious days which we will cherish forever,” he said. “Through these Games, the world learned more about China and China learned more about the world.”
And then he said it.
“These were truly exceptional Games!”
And they were. The Chinese proved to be outstanding organizers, even if they had great difficulty reacting to the unexpected. They produced by far the best athletes village in the history of the Olympics, by far the most first-rate facilities and the most efficient transportation system.
They may, indeed, have been the best-organized and produced Games ever.
But there was one thing missing.
It was noticeable in its absence in the opening ceremony and noticeable every which way through every day of the Games.
From start to finish, there was a distinct lack of joy.
And that’s what was missing most when it ended here last night.
The closing ceremony, vowed artistic director Chen Weiya, who wowed the world with the opener, would focus on a theme of “harmony, friendship and joy.”
But again, there was no joy.
When you ask most people who have attended a large number of Olympics, I think you’ll find they’ll rave about every aspect of these Games. But when you asked them if these ranked with their favourite Olympics, they won’t be able to tell you that they did.
Sydney, Barcelona, Seoul, Montreal, Lillehammer, Calgary, and Sarajevo all ended up ahead on my scorecard of 15 Olympics covered because they all had what these Games didn’t — a joyful experience.
Last night, it definitely wasn’t a particularly joyful experience to be at the closing ceremony.
While China gave the world the most awesome, brilliant, inspired, powerful and original opening ceremony in history, it also became the first victim of trying to follow that act with its own closing ceremony. As overwhelming as the opening ceremony was, the closing ceremony was underwhelming.
It failed in so many ways.
The entrance of the flag-bearers, for example, was forgettable for everybody including, one suspects, the flag- bearers themselves. The Chinese decided to divide them into two groups and hustle them all on the floor in Olympic record time of four minutes and 30 seconds.
If Canada didn’t have such a distinctive flag, people from our nation in the crowd of 91,000 would never have noticed three-time trampoline medal winner Karen Cockburn of Toronto carrying our’s into the stadium.
The athletes were then herded in from four different entrances and, again, if Canada’s group didn’t stand out wearing distinctive patterned Chinese pajama-like bottoms, it might have been missed, too. Chinese giant basketball star Yao Ming also brought the Canadian athletes into focus by spending a great deal of time in their midst, posing for pictures.
The highlight was an almost Disneyland electrical parade-type opening featuring a countdown in fireworks numbers in the sky over the Bird’s Nest. The opening number featured two large airborne “heavenly drums,” drum carts, silver bell dancers and electrical light wheels with the diameter of 2.008 metres.
But it paled in comparison to the 2,008 Fou ancient percussion instruments made of clay and bronze. The same number of performers created a rhythm and light show which counted down the seconds to filling the Beijing sky with fireworks, 11,456 of them on the top of the stadium and 8,428 around the city in the stunning opening ceremony.
In fact, the fireworks at the closing didn’t even come close to several other Olympics and with gunpowder having been invented here, that was supposed to be a given.
The transfer of the Olympic flag to London didn’t really make it, either.
It was celebrated by a double-decker British bus being driven around the stadium with a show surrounding and emerging from out of the top of the bus, doing little to whet whistles for the ceremonies in 2012.
But something tells me four years from now, we’ll be writing about an Olympics of great joy and a Games we’ll remember on a list with our other favourites.
Three things Terry Jones found surprising while at the Beijing Olympics
– Simon Whitfield may have produced a more incredible performance to win silver in Beijing than gold in Sydney.
– Eric Lamaze — and his horse — produced quite the ride for Canadians. It was delicious drama. And it was gold.
– Watching Carol Huynh go through virtually every emotion possible during the playing of O’ Canada and the raising of the flag was wonderful stuff.
Chinese deserve the gold
Individuals were perfect hosts
Mon, August 25, 2008
By THANE BURNETT
BEIJING — Chen Donghai takes a break from cleaning up after the last few times foreigners came here to visit.
It was 1860 and 1900, and marauding troops pretty much looted and ruined the place for the Chinese people.
This time was different, says the proud farmer turned handyman at Beijing’s Yuanmingyuan Park — the “Versailles of the East” under five emperors, and now a place where mostly Chinese tourists walk around, enjoying the lotus flowers and using giant leaves as sun bonnets.
Having welcomed the world this time, Chen explains — eating noodles near a string of rundown worker huts, hidden from sight, behind the park’s lush bamboo greenery — both Olympic visitors and China finally got to know each other a whole lot better.
Boy, Chen sure doesn’t get out much.
Depending on which newspaper you read, and in which country you read it, the Beijing Olympics where either the world’s best ever Games, thanks largely to the work of the ordinary person here, or it was a lavish publicity stunt to prop up and mask an oppressive Communist government.
“From Smog to Protests, China’s a Winner,” raved the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette yesterday.
“Beijing’s Bad Faith Olympics,” countered an editorial in the New York Times.
It was either a celebration of sport over political agenda, or wait, was it the other way around? In fact, we all know it was both.
China, the government and its people, did just what they had long dreamed of doing.
They made it to the end of the Games, basking in cheers and glory.
They broke the Chinese vault in their gold medal count, 24 to 20 for the U.S. and Russia’s 12. Pouring endless amounts of money into their athletic preparations, they managed what the old Soviet Union once did, create a vast legion of first-place super-athletes.
But unlike the robots which came out from behind the Old Iron Curtain, the Chinese won while showing a happy face to the biggest Olympics audience ever. No one really minded when they won, again and again. This is their town, their time.
We may not be able to pronounce their names any better, but they sure tried their best to speak our language.
They, and good-fortune in weather patterns, kept the skies clear of pollution and a cop on every corner helped deter — other than a random attack on a pair of U.S. tourists and their guide — any acts of violence to their visitors.
Their athletes cried and were lovable in victory. And, come on, so what if one or two were slightly under age?
The Chinese adopted and cheered almost as loudly for heroes from far-flung lands, mostly U.S. national treasures such as Kobe Bryant and Michael Phelps, but Jamaican sensation Usain Bolt as well.
And they were, as individual hosts, the kind of people we wish we could be, but know we will never be because people upset us a lot more in North America.
They proved that whatever the West can do, they can do just as well and with more cute cartoon characters and camera angles.
And the people pulled it off, even in the face of their Chinese government leaders still behaving badly.
Chinese officials offered up, under conditions agreed to when they were awarded the Olympics, three protest parks, but then didn’t approve any application and, in fact, used the sign-up sheets as a way to pin-point malcontents. They arrested old ladies, who wanted to speak up about their land being taken for the sake of redevelopment, and sentenced them to “re-education through labour.”
They wouldn’t allow the Chinese press to talk about ethnic violence or fully cover the debate over Tibet. Even coverage of questionable water was out of the question.
As the final days of the Games went on, leaders spitefully decided to jail foreign protesters for 10 days, rather than simply shipping them out on the first plane home.
They told a little girl she wasn’t pretty enough to be seen singing during the Olympic opener. How mean is that?
“It pocketed … gains without offering any concessions in return,” the New York Times wrote. “When it increased repression — rather than loosening up — a supine International Olympic Committee barely offered a protest.
“The medal count and DVD sales cannot be the last word on the Beijing Games.”
But there were always two Olympics going on here at one time, as is always the case in the modern Games.
There was the people’s Games and the political one.
And most viewers — if not the press and the protesters — understood that clearly.
Olympic poll says Canadians happy with athletes, China and TV
79 per cent satisfied with athletes; 72 per cent liked how CBC covered Games
Last Updated: Monday, August 25, 2008 | 11:05 PM ET
When rower Krista Guloien led a contingent of 100 Canadian Olympians returning from Beijing down the escalator at Vancouver International Airport Monday she found a country more than satisfied with how the Summer Games turned out.
A new Canadian Press/Harris Decima poll shows Canadians happy with everything from the athletes’ efforts at the Games, the organization of events by the host country, China, and the Olympic coverage shown on CBC television.
Canada won 18 medals in Beijing (three gold, nine silver and six bronze), the country’s second-best performance ever at a non-boycotted Games. (The Atlanta Games in 1996 produced 22 medals.) And that left everyone in a good mood.
“In the run-up to these Games, it wasn’t clear whether broad attention was going to be captured, and obviously it wasn’t clear whether people were going to come away pleased with the outcomes,” said Bruce Anderson, president of Harris Decima.
“As it turned out, the general sentiment is that the Games were a success, Canada’s athletes performed admirably and the coverage provided by the CBC was well regarded, too.”
Among the highlights of the survey of more than 1,000 people across the country:
-Canadians were satisfied with the performance of the national team in Beijing. Fully 79 per cent of those surveyed were either very satisfied (26 per cent) or satisfied (53 per cent). Only nine per cent were dissatisfied.
-China’s efforts at organizing and running the Olympics met with a solid majority of support as 66 per cent of those surveyed said they were either very impressed (31 per cent) or somewhat impressed (37 per cent). A total of 21 per cent were either not too impressed or not impressed at all.
-Television coverage by CBC Sports, English and French, also received high marks. Seventy-two per cent of Canadians who answered the survey thought the coverage was either excellent (35 per cent) or good (37 per cent). Just one in 10 believed the coverage to be fair (eight per cent) or poor (two per cent).
Across the country, 77 per cent said they watched some portion of the Games on television, with the average person taking in 13.76 hours (the survey was taken between last Thursday and the closing of the Games on Sunday).
Those who watched the Games had the highest number of positive reactions toward the athletes, organizers and the CBC.
A sample of this size has a margin of error of 3.1 per cent 19 times out of 20.
Beijing Summer Games come to a joyous close
Sun. Aug. 24 2008 10:57 PM ET
CTV.ca News Staff
The Summer Olympics came to a close in Beijing with a blast of fireworks, spectacular pageantry and athletes and spectators alike celebrating the joy of sport.
Tens of thousands of spectators and athletes packed what became known as the Bird’s Nest, the Games’ main stadium, for a final party and send-off on Sunday night.
“Tonight, we come to the end of 16 glorious days which we will cherish forever,” IOC president Jacques Rogge told the crowd at the National Outdoor Stadium. “Through these Games, the world learned more about China, and China learned more about the world.”
“These were truly exceptional Games,” he said, and then declared them formally closed.
Liu Qi, the head of the Beijing organizing committee, said the Games were “testimony to the fact that the world has rested its trust in China.”
When the first round of fireworks died down, a military band played the Chinese national anthem before thousands of acrobats and drummers in brightly coloured costumes danced onto the field.
Unlike the Aug. 8 opening ceremonies, when athletes arrive in groups with their country-mates, the Olympians ran into the stadium, waving to spectators and snapping pictures.
Members of the Canadian team climbed onto each other’s shoulders as flags fluttered from their backs. Some bumped into Chinese basketball star Yao Ming and crowded around him for a snapshot.
Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page and British songstress Leona Lewis represented the host of the 2012 Summer Games, London, with a concert from a stage rigged from a double-decker bus. Soccer star David Beckham also appeared.
The ceremonies were also highlighted by a kung-fu demonstration by athletes from a local martial arts school and a duet sung by Chinese soprano Song Zuying and tenor Placido Domingo.
Games ‘cannot force changes’
China spent about US$40 billion to produce an Olympics that ran like a well-oiled machine but still generated controversy.
The Chinese government put a tight lid on free speech, deporting protesters who sought to highlight human right’s issues in Tibet and even blocking the international media from viewing certain websites.
Throughout the Games, Rogge defended the organization’s decision to award China the Olympics and continued to do so.
“The IOC and the Olympic Games cannot force changes on sovereign nations or solve all the ills of the world,” Rogge said earlier. “But we can — and we do — contribute to positive change through sport.”
Chinese athletes put their country at the top of the gold medal tally with 51. China’s 99 total medals was the country’s best showing ever at an Olympics.
The United States won the most medals, with 108. Canada finished with 18.
Sports lovers got quite the show, as the sixteen days of competition produced 43 world records and 132 Olympic records.
Highlights included Michael Phelps’s eight gold medals in swimming and Jamaica’s Usain Bolt and his three golds in track and field.
Canadian medal haul
After a slow start by Canadian athletes, the Games marked Canada’s third-best showing at a Summer Olympics. The final medal tally is three gold, nine silver and six bronze medals.
Canada’s first gold medal was won by Hazelton, B.C.’s Carol Huynh, who came out on top of the women’s freestyle 48 kg wrestling competition.
Other Canadian highlights included 61-year-old show jumper Ian Millar capturing a silver medal – his first – in the equestrian team event. Miller had participated in every Olympics since 1971 and the Beijing Games marked his ninth trip to the big show.
Millar dedicated the victory to his late wife, Lynn, who died of cancer in March.
Millar’s teammate, Schomberg, Ont.’s Eric Lamaze, became the first Canadian ever to win a gold medal in the individual equestrian event. Lamaze’s win marked his comeback after missing the last two Olympics due to positive cocaine tests.
Canada’s flag-bearer at the opening ceremonies, kayaker Adam van Koeverden, overcame a disappointing eighth-place finish in the K-1 1,000 metre race with a silver medal in the 500 metres.
Canadian athletes also posted 12 fourth-place finishes throughout the Games.
With files from The Associated Press
China shines in new areas amid record medal count at Olympics
August, 25, 2008 – 04:44 pm Bodeen, Christopher – (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)
BEIJING – Hurdler Liu Xiang’s painful withdrawal and a ho-hum performance by basketball star Yao Ming were low points for China at the Beijing Olympics.
They hardly mattered.
Such disappointments were inconsequential against the hosts’ all-time best count of 100 medals – 51 gold – an amount that sprawled across the Olympic program into sports where China hadn’t before distinguished itself. Only the United States had more medals with 110, and its 36 golds were a distant second to China’s tally.
China won gold medals in 16 of 28 Olympic disciplines, up from 14 four years ago in Athens and 10 at the 2000 Sydney Games.
These gains were the result of China’s eight-year-old program targeting overlooked sports – known as “Project 119” for the number of unexploited medals up for grabs. The program delivered, backed by hundreds of millions of dollars (euros) in state funding, copious foreign expertise, home-field advantage, and a desire to establish China as a dominant sporting power for years to come.
“Even in events where gold wasn’t won, we’ve raised our level enormously,” said Liu Peng, the head of China’s government sport’s administration. “State and popular support, economic development and social stability have all been huge factors.”
Among the most eye-catching breakthroughs were fencer Zhong Man’s gold medal in the men’s individual saber, Zhang Juanjuan’s individual women’s archery gold and a silver medal for the women’s field hockey team. Sailing, rowing, beach volleyball and trampoline also offered new medals, with the groundwork laid for greater success at the 2012 Games in London.
“It’s all cumulative, the result of a lot of hard work and competition,” said one of the new stars, Li Qiang, after finishing third in his heat in the men’s 500-metre canoe single. “It’s hard to name a single reason for the improvement. There are a lot of factors involved.”
Including the home-field advantage.
“These Olympic Games, it’s so nice, but not for European people,” Hungarian kayaker Attila Sandor Vajda said after his race, referring to the cheering crowds that accompanied China’s competitors throughout the games.
One key has been a willingness to seek out expertise from outside, whether by sending teams abroad or by hiring foreign coaches, much as China welcomed in droves of “foreign experts” in science, business and other fields after the launch of reforms 30 years ago that sent the economy rocketing.
Thirty-eight foreign coaches were hired to help train China’s teams, often with the explicit requirement that they produce gold-winning athletes. Among the best known are men’s basketball coach Jonas Kazlauskas of Lithuania and his counterpart on the women’s team, Australian Tom Maher. American Jim Lefebvre coached baseball, and Japan’s Masayo Imura synchronized swimming, while a Spaniard is the women’s water polo coach, a Russian heads the powerful rowing team and South Koreans coach both men’s and women’s field hockey.
“China’s breakthrough in rowing wouldn’t have been possible without foreign coaching,” Wei Di, director of the China Water Sports Center, told reporters after China won gold in the women’s quadruple sculls.
While foreign coaches seem to have melded well, the meeting of cultures has not always gone smoothly, particularly in sports where athletes and staff had been least exposed to foreign methods.
Rowing coach Igor Grinko raised hackles among some Chinese officials with changes to the training regime that included giving athletes two days of rest per week and separating the single and dual oar competitors into separate training groups.
Where positive competition results followed, as in rowing, the changes were accepted. When the results were disappointing, they weren’t.
The best coaches in the sporting world don’t come cheap, and a large increase in funding has been critical to improving performance.
A report by the Communist Party’s official Youth Daily on Saturday estimated spending on preparing China’s athletes for the Beijing Olympics at US$586 million.
While China’s booming economy appears more than able to sustain that cost, officials remain eager to justify the spending by citing the example of other countries. The U.S., the argument goes, also provides a form of subsidy by selling commercial sponsorships
“The methodology is different, but the substance is the same,” sports official Wei Jizhong, a top adviser to the Beijing Games organizers, was quoted as saying by the Youth Daily.
The other major component is political backing. Though in the run-up to the games political leaders declined to comment publicly on a specific medal target – and sometimes conspicuously sought to downplay expectations – they widely broadcast their lofty expectations through state media and public awareness campaigns, and backed them up with funding.
While the Chinese have revelled in their sporting success, popular commentator Xue Yong recently questioned the wisdom of training professional athletes to compete in sports such as rowing that are largely the province of amateurs.
In an editorial in the Shanghai Morning Post newspaper, Xue asked how such athletes were expected to support themselves after their competitive years are over, given the relative obscurity of their sports.
Li, the canoeist who finished sixth in his event, did not seem concerned by such questions.
“The success will definitely continue,” the 19-year-old said. “And me, I’m still quite young myself.”