Beijing Bids for the 2000 Olympics
Beijing bid to host the 2000 Olympics. Even though it was the sentimental favorite it lost out to Sydney, Australia by two votes. Many believe that Beijing lost its bid because of China's human rights record. Beijing blamed "anti-China" elements in the U.S. Congress. Later it was revealed that the day before the voting, the Sydney Olympics committee offered to donate $35,000 to charities controlled by two African IOC members if Sydney won.
Beijing pulled out all the stops in it effort to win the bid. On the eve of the visit to the city by International Olympic Committee selection committee, political prisoners were released, stray dogs were killed to get them off the streets, fines were issued for spitting, pot holes were patched, squatters shacks were ripped down, and street children and homeless people were trucked out of the city. One homeless man was beaten to death. Many city residents had their hot water and heat turned off so the committee wouldn't see the pollution caused by heating coal.
Bird's nest stadium
In 1990, Beijing hosted the Asian Games partly to show it was capable of hosting the Olympics. Security was so tight at these games the families of many athletes were not able to watch the athletes perform. To help pay for it, workers were coerced into making "voluntary" contributions.
Websites and Resources
Good Websites and Sources on the 2008 Olympics in Beijing: Official Site for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing en.beijing2008.cn ; China Orbit chinaorbit.com ; Wikipedia article about 2008 Games Wikipedia ; Olympic.org olympic.org ; China.org on the 2008 Games china.org.cn ; New York Times Articles on the Beijing Olympics nytimes.com ; China Digital News chinadigitaltimes.net Analysis of the Games with Good Bibliography PDF file afssse.asn.au ;
Good Websites and Sources on the Olympics in China: Chinese Olympic Committee en.olympic.cn ; China.org on China’s Olympic History china.org.cn ; Database on Olympic Athletes databaseolympics.com ; Success of Chinese Athletes pponline.co.uk ; Photos of Chinese Kids Training freshpics.blogspot.com ; Book: Olympic Dreams by Wu Guoqi hup.harvard.edu ; The Red Face, a Film About Olympic Training Epoch Times ; High Altitude Training chinasportstoday.com ; Book: Olympic Dreams: China and Sports, 1895-2008 by Xu Gouqi
Good Websites and Sources on Sports in China: Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; China Sports Today chinasportstoday.com ; China Daily Sports chinadaily.com.cn ; China Sports Review chinasportsreview.com ; China Sports Blog chinasports.wokpopcorn.com ; South China Morning Post Sports scmp.com ; Sports in Ancient China Chinese Olympic Committee ; Traditional Sports Travel China Guide
Links in this Website: THE 2008 OLYMPICS IN BEIJING Factsanddetails.com/China ; PREPARATIONS FOR THE 2008 OLYMPICS IN BEIJING Factsanddetails.com/China ; VENUES AND INFRASTRUCTURE FOR THE 2008 OLYMPICS IN BEIJING Factsanddetails.com/China ; THE 2008 OLYMPICS IN BEIJING, POLLUTION WEATHER Factsanddetails.com/China ;THE 2008 OLYMPICS IN BEIJING AND POLITICS Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINESE ATHLETES AT THE 2008 OLYMPICS Factsanddetails.com/China ; OPENING CEREMONY AND STARS AT THE 2008 OLYMPICS IN BEIJING Factsanddetails.com/China ; OLYMPICS AND CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINESE OLYMPIC ATHLETES Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINESE OLYMPIC TRAINING Factsanddetails.com/China ; OLYMPIC SPORTS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; OLYMPIC SWIMMING AND DIVING IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; OLYMPIC TRACK AND RUNNING IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; LIU XIANG Factsanddetails.com/China ; OLYMPIC GYMNASTICS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; OLYMPIC BADMINTON, SHOOTING WEIGHTLIFTING IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHINA---OLYMPICS Factsanddetails.com/China
Beijing Bids for the 2008 Olympics
Beijing didn't bid for the 2004 Olympics because the number "4" is considered as an unlucky number and Athens was the favorite. It waited to bid for 2008, in part because the "8" in 2008 is viewed as more lucky. Even before the selection process had begun, Beijing had chosen a symbol for the Olympics---the five Olympics rings and colors twisted into a tai chi action figure. The slogan for the bid was "New Beijing, Great Olympics."
As part of the campaign to win the 2008 Olympics, 10,000 cyclists rode together through Beijing waving flags that read, "I will do my part for Beijing's bid" and 200,000 people unfurled a 6,000-foot banner at the Great Wall covered with signatures. A special clock was installed on Beijing's Wangfujing Street that ticked off the days until the IOC selected the 2008 host city.
Members of the International Olympics Committee (IOC) selection team visited Beijing in the middle of winter. Even so they were driven down a route with green trees, flowers and grass that had been dyed a shocking color of green. Traffic lights were programmed to turn green when their cars passed. Drab apartment buildings were given coats of pink, blue, and lime green paint. Taxi drivers were given special instructions to be especially nice to foreigners when the IOC was in town.
Beijing spent $24 million on its Olympic bid, much of it subsidized by foreign corporate sponsors. On the eve of the IOC visit, as was the case the 2000 bid, Chinese were urged to stop spitting, factories stopped belching out smoke, and homeless people and dogs were taken away. In addition, acclaimed film makers like Zhang Yimou made commercials shown to IOC members, "four-star public toilet facilities" were constructed and the "Three Tenors" performed a concert in the Forbidden City to bring international attention to the bid.
Beijing Gets the 2008 Olympics
Polls showed that 95 percent of the Chinese public supported Beijing's bid for the 2008 Olympics. Even people who were to be evicted from homes to make way for event sites supported it. But these sentiments were not shared by everyone. Some members of the U.S. Congress campaigned against China's Olympics bid on human rights grounds. Some complained that the Communist leaders would use the Olympics to showcase their government the same way the Nazis did in Berlin in 1936. The Bush administration decided to remain neutral.
Chinese dissident Wei Jingsheng wrote, "I opposed China being awarded the Olympics because for the leadership of the Communist Party, everything is political. Having the Olympics for them is not about sports: it is a way to fan ultranationalism and xenophobia at home."
Human rights organizations flooded IOC members with e-mail, The strategy seems to have backfired. One IOC member told the Los Angeles Times, "The anti-China lobby is being very stupid. The lobby is antagonizing people." Among those that supported the Beijing bid were the Dalai Lama. He said Beijing "deserves to be the Olympics hosts." IOC President Juan Antonio Samarch also has been a loyal supporter of Beijing.
On July 13, 2001, China was selected to host the 2008 Olympics. It won in the second ballot with 56 votes. It rivals Toronto, Paris and Istanbul received 22, 18 and nine votes respectively. Osaka was eliminated in the first round.
After the decision was announced, ordinary Chinese took the streets, cheering and waving Chinese flags. Fireworks and laser lights illuminated the skies over Beijing. The winning of the bid was a personal victory for president Jiang Zemin. The Chinese promised to stage the best Olympics ever and made it a matter of national pride and unity to do so. The terms of the contract between the IOC and the Chinese government were never made public.
In October 2009, a retired sports minster and president of the Chinese Olympic Committee asserted in a book that Beijing was awarded the Olympics in return for Chinese support of Jacques Rogge’s bid to become IOC president. Yuan Weimin, coach of a gold-medal-winning women’s volleyball team and head of the Chinese Olympic Committee, helped Beijing win its bid to host the 2008 Olympics. In his book Yuan Weimin: Winds and Clouds of the World of Sports he contends the deal was struck in a Geneva hotel room. Yuan wrote, “We had a mutual understanding that we all understood clearly, even of it was not in writing.” Yuan was sacked as sports minister in 2004 in the middle of an audit of his financial dealings and replaced with an appartchik, with no sporting experience, which explains why maybe he wrote the book.
Preparations for the 2008 Olympics
The Beijing Olympics was organized by the Beijing Olympic Committee for the XXIX Olympiad (BOCOG), headed Liu Qi, Beijing’s Communist Party Secretary. Three years before the event was scheduled to begin Beijing was already filled with posters emblazoned with the slogan “One World, One Dream.” In August 2007, IOC President Jacques Rogge said that preparations were “truly impressive in every regard.”
Inspectors were out in force making sure restaurants, food stalls, public baths and swimming pools were safe and disease-free and met international standards. Kitchens were guarded and refrigerators were monitored with video cameras; inspectors were sent to the farms and slaughterhouses that produced the food; and delivery trucks were tracked with GPS devices to prevent food tampering. White mice were designated as the official Olympics poison testers in part because results were known within 17 hours, faster than other methods such as bacteria cultures. Beijing even set aside several thousand hospitals beds in several dozen hospitals in the event of an outbreak of an infectious disease during the Olympics.
To make visitors feel comfortable thousands of new public toilets were installed and chrysanthemums were crossbred to bloom in August. To make young people more aware of what the Olympics is all about secondary school students were required to take a course on Olympics knowledge, whose contents were tested on the university entrance exam. Taxi drivers were required to take courses in basic English.
Continency measures considered included hospitalizing the mentally ill. relaxing restrictions on religious services, and temporarily closing down many businesses and factories. There were also plans to banish migrant workers, AIDS activists, Falun Gong members, disabled people from Beijing during the duration of the Olympics.
Special lanes were built on roads, designated for athletes and tourists so they were not late for events. There was a string of venues and a new park in the shape of dragon following a “dragon vein,” which feng shui masters set up on Beijing’s north-south axis to bring good luck.
More Preparations for the 2008 Olympics
More than 40 million plants were placed on the road to the airports and in baskets in the median in major downtown streets; toll booths were fitted to look like pagodas and toll takers were dressed in special satin blouses; flight attendments gave out small Chinese flags and led passengers in cheers; elementary school students studied the Olympics for several years with each school in Beijing specializing in a specific country and welcoming members of that country’s Olympics team when they came to Beijing;
Security concerns, in the eyes of some, turned the Games into the “no-fun Olympics.” Restaurants took dog meat off their menus; shops pulled pirated discs and clothes (and placed them in backrooms). Curfews imposed in bars forced them to close at 2:00am; barbecue restaurants were closed for producing polluting smoke; entertainers had to present scripts of their performances for approval. A preview performance of Hairspray was raided because it lacked an approved security plan.
An efforts was made to teach English to the city’s taxi drivers and to get them to stop eating foods that gave them garlic breath. Some restaurant were required to replace squat toilets with Western models and post “no prostitution” and “no gambling: signs. Other were told to limit the amount of alcohol served to customers, remove outside tables and prevent displays of affection in public. Special lanes were set up for Olympic buses. Around 80 billion gallons of water was diverted to Beijing through a series of hastily built canals, some built only months before the Games began. Some of the water was brought in from areas with water shortages, exacerbating drought conditions there.
Beijing became one big Potemkin Village. Walls like those around hutongs were put up with no hutongs behind them to somehow make up for all the hutongs that were torn down. The hutongs that survived were spruced up with repaved roads, new sewage lines, overhauled roofs and renovated houses. Local residents were unhappy with some preparations, particularly construction noise, restrictions on driving, searches at subway stations and the empty express lanes next to lanes of gridlocked traffic.
In the wake of criticism over food safety, vegetables and grains were grown and processed under heavy guard and food was thoroughly tested. One farm contracted to cultivate vegetables for athletes was surrounded by a brick wall. Greenhouses were locked and watched over by guards and vehicles entering the Olympics area were stopped and checked.
People Sacrificed During the 2008 Olympics in Beijing
Beggars, migrant workers and homeless people as well as some masseuses and fortunetellers were rounded up and taken out of the city; workers at factories were furloughed; entire neighborhoods were demolished to make way for new building with holdouts having their homes bulldozed down in the weeks before the Games.
Migrant workers were not directly forced out but heavy pressure was put on them to leave. There was no work for them during the Olympics and in the run up to it.
As tourists began arriving at Beijing International Airports migrants filled up the train stations, taking the trains out. Many simply didn’t make enough money and had no place to stay to ride out the Olympics. Many moved on to other cities where there was work. Other left out of fear, worried that if the police found them without residency permits they would get stuck with a big fine. Many decided to make the most of the break and return home and spend time with their families. Many watched the Olympics on television in their home villages. A few even used the time off as opportunity to get married.
Villagers in villages whose water was diverted to Beijing for the Olympics saw their crops wither and pond fish die. Even so many did not complain and said they were happy to make a sacrifice for the motherland and its moment of Olympic glory. One farmer in a village 155 miles from Beijing that saw its irrigation source dry up told the Washington Post, “This is a small thing for individuals. We should make contributions to the country. I understand---we are a socialist family.”
Security and the 2008 Olympics
Around 90,000 police and thousands of military and border troops were deployed in Beijing during the Olympics. More than 600,000 “security volunteers”---mostly retirees, guards and students---were lined up to assist police, troops and other security forces. Details of how they were all be deployed were state secrets. The government has said that $300 million will be spent on security, a fraction of the $1.8 billion spent in Athens in 2004. Experts have estimated that China's total budget for security is around $1.3 billion.
The usual police---mostly blue-uniformed traffic cops “were beefed up with paramilitary officers and soldiers, white-shirted security guards and armed police that stood unflinching at attention for hours. Primary responsibility was given to the People’s Armed Police, who dealt most directly with spectators, athletes and journalists, It was unusual for the Chinese military and police to be on such a high alert. A 400-member special patrol was put in charge of guarding key power transmission lines.
More than 34,000 military personnel, 74 airplanes 47 helicopters and 33 naval ships were deployed in the Beijing area. Security was tight at airports all over China; certain liquids including alcohol were banned from all Chinese trains. Security inspectors were placed on all 4,000 buses in Urumqi in Xinjiang, where many Muslim Uighurs live.
China’s spy network is also reportedly gearing up for the Games. The French journalist Roger Faligot, author of The Chinese Secret Service from Mao to the Olympics, said special teams have been set up abroad to identify troublesome journalists and human rights activists and a network of spies and technology has been set up to monitor them when they are in China.
“Security volunteers” were identified with red armbands. One of them told the Washington Post, “We always stand at the gate of our compounds, and when we see strangers that look like bad people we will ask them what they are doing." One stationed near Tiananmen Square said, “If we see petitioners carrying a banner, definitely we must stop them.” When a policeman was asked how he would deal with foreign protestors, he told the Washington Post, “We will bring foreign protestors to the security office politely. There security officers who speak their language will talk to them.”
Security Measures at the 2008 Olympics
Security at the Games included random checks in Tiananmen Square and major transportation hubs; random night checks of motorist’s documents; and subway searches for flammable liquids. Chinese living outside of Beijing needed approval to enter the city. American tourists were warned their hotel rooms might be monitored or bugged. After the Tibetan protest in March 2008, security was stepped up in airports and potential trouble spots.
There were rigorous security checks not only at airports but also at major subway stations, where more than a million passengers a day passed through metal defectors. About 6,000 police rode Beijing’s 18,000 buses and another 30,000 checked bus stops and terminals. Thousands of cars and trucks entering the city were checked. Armed guards were deployed at the Beijing Airport.
There also seemed to be a ban on having a good time. Foreign performers and entertainers were warned not to tarnish China’s image. Music festivals were cancelled and bars that have live music were suddenly told they need a license. For musical performances ro be authorized, lyrics had to be checked in advance and permission was needed for encores. Authorities swept through the streets, cleaning them of counterfeit goods. Sleeping outdoors, flying kites and homing pigeons, and wearing identical shirts were prohibited. There was a ban on promotions based on security concerns over large gatherings of people. Retailers lost money because of the prohibitions.
Publicly-shown drills with commandos rappeling down towers before the Olympics was intended to show that security forces would be ready and the chances of terrorist attacks were next to nil. One policeman told the Washington Post, they would not tolerate protests “harmful to the country’s security, sovereignty and land integrity.”
In the run up to the Olympics dissidents were detained, papers and residency cards were checked; house-to-house searches were conducted; surveillance cameras were installed in all kinds of places; and observances of websites, chat lines, telephone calls, E-mails, cell phone calls and text messages have been stepped up.
The dissident Zhang Zuha told the Washington Post, “I’ve been warned by the police several times to be careful during the Olympics. The policemen who watch me said that they must do their best to protect the Olympics...The police know everything about us already... There is no way for us to organize any protests. The biggest headache should be the thousands of foreigners coming. The police can’t anticipate what their plans are.”
Terorist Attacks See Xinjiang, Minorities
Security Technology at the 2008 Olympics
By some estimates $6.5 billion was spent on security for the Olympics. A large chunk of money was spent on a video monitoring system described as “most comprehensive and sophisticated surveillance system ever.” Tens of thousands of surveillance cameras were st up: on lampposts, in bars and Internet cafes with a total of 300,000 cameras in place at the time of the Opening Ceremonies. By contrast, Manhattan is expected to have only 3,000 high-tech surveillance cameras in place by 2010.. IBM, GE, Honeywell, and United Technologies supplied the latest computer tools to automatically analyze video images and alert computer operators to potential threats. The system continued to be used after the Olympics were over.
The athlete’s village was enclosed by a wall and two lines of high-security fencing. Strict credential and bag checks were carried out for anyone entering the area. A small missile base was built on a site adjacent to the Olympic venues. Surface-to-air missiles were aimed in the skies over the Olympic stadiums. Members of the Hash Harriers, a beer-drinking running club, were questioned on suspicion that flour used to mark their course might be part of a terrorist scheme.
More than 10,000 knives were confiscated at subway station security checks. One Air China jet was forced to land in Japan after a bomb threat was e-mailed to the airline soon after the plane took off from Beijing. Four other planes were delayed because of the threat.
Reaction to Security at the 2008 Olympics
One American told the Washington Post the 2008 Games were not like others he had been to “where you could go anywhere and take photos if everything....It’s been frustrating sometimes...it’s been “Stop here,” “Stop here,” don’t go there.”“
A Norwegian member of the IOC said that Chinese Security forces would smile more and not intimidate visitors. “The police and military...need to act differently. They have stony faces. They’re seriously scaring the foreigners in Beijing. Something has to be done...The fact they’re armed and look sinister just makes things worse.”
The government insisted that the measures were necessary to prevent a terrorist attacks and ticked off a list of potential threats: separatists from Tibet and Xinjiang, Al-Qaida-trained Muslim terrorists, Falun Gong members, and mentally-deranged individuals. Human rights advocates insisted that the terrorist threat was just a cover and excuse for keeping a close eye on dissidents and ordinary citizens.
On Brazilian visitor told the Washington Post, “People respect strong central government. If Brazil had a stronger central government, we’d probably avoid a lot of anarchy, like robberies and people being kidnapped.”
Etiquette, Rules and the 2008 Olympics in Beijing
Etiquette posters plastered around Beijing listed the “Eight don’t asks,” which included not asking people their age, income, political views, religious beliefs or about their health, love life or personal experiences. The posters were part of an effort by a local propaganda department to instruct Beijing residents how to properly welcome foreign visitors. One official said, “It is normal for Chinese to ask people they met such questions, but foreigners respond negatively to such questions. By educating locals, we hope that they will become more socially sensitive when communicating with visitors.”
Similar posters were put up on how address foreign disabled people during the Paralympics. One of these advised people not to use phrases like “it’s over there” and “it’s up there” when talking to visually impaired people
Posters around the Bird’s Nest stadium read: “The following actions are considered inappropriate and will be stopped at the venues...deliberately displaying and promoting commercial logos on clothing, accessaries or other items; wearing clothing with identical or similar designs, color combinations.” Among the other things that were both tolerated were “using flash photography, attending events inebriated and/or disobeying instructions given by staff...opening umbrellas, standing for long periods in seating areas or behaving in manner that may disturb others or block others” view.
Among the “strictly prohibited” behaviors were “any publicity, promotional, demonstrations and fund-raising activities including but not limited to commercial, religious, political, military, territorial, human rights, and animal and environmental protection activities.” In pamphlets given out to Beijing residents men were advised not to wear white socks with dark shoes, older women were told not to wear miniskirts and homeowners were told not to throw trash in the gutter, play cards in the street or hanglaundry from their windows or balconies, especially underpants.
Prime Minister Wen Jiabao pronounced the Olympics “smoke free.” Cigarette billboard advertising was banned during the Games. Taxi drivers were told they couldn’t smoke and had to wear a special uniform and keep their shirt tails tucked in.
More than 17 million people logged on to an online program that offered advise on things like what color socks to wear with a dark suit (dark), how to act when receiving a present from a foreign visitor (open it in front the giftgiver and express delight) and which seat in the car to give honored guest (the right side of the back seat). A CCTV television show instructed Chinese how to properly greet visitors of different nationalities. A study by the sociology department at Beijing People University devised a “civil index” test and said scores on it improved from 65 in 2005 to 72 in December 2007.
Civilization Campaigns Before the 2008 Olympics
Anti-spitting poster Beijing launched a major “civilization” campaign aimed at reducing spitting, litter and impolite behavior in the run up to the 2008 Olympics. The city set up special trash boxes and provided sanitary bags for people to spit in and given police the authority to impose fines of $5 for spitting.
Beijing tried to get rid of signs with embarrassingly bad English (See Language). Newspapers were informed people that it was unacceptable for men to parade around outside without a shirt, even when the weather is really hot. See Etiquette, Customs.
In December 2006, a Chinese Communist Party official promised a “clean” Olympics and warned government officials not to be “dissipated by wine and women” and “not visit entertainment venues after work” and embarrass China during the Olympics. The announcement was made after a Beijing vice mayor Liu Zhihua, who oversaw Olympic construction. was sacked and charged with taking bribes. According to state television Liu took “several million yuan in bribes and helped his mistress to seek profits in projects.”
Officials also said they would do something about smelly taxis, crack down on abusive nationalism and get volunteers to root for opposing sides. To get local people to break the habit of forming rugby scrums rather than lines the 11th of every month has been declared “queuing day.”
Food and Smoking at the 2008 Olympics
The United States Olympic Committee made arrangements to have 11,340 kilograms of lean meat sent to Beijing for the Olympics out of concern that Chinese meat might be contaminated with veterinary drugs, insecticides and other chemicals. Meat from animals given growth stimulants and steroids was a particular concern because of worries that consuming such meat might produce a positive result on a drug test. China bans drugs like clenbuterol---a steroid that boosts animal muscle mass---in feed, though experts say it is still widely used by Chinese producers.
Organizers said the Olympics would be smoke free. Smoking was not allowed at the sites or in the Olympic Village. Smoking was a target of the etiquette campaign in Beijing in the run up to the Olympics. Beginning in May 2008, smoking was banned in all government offices and on public transport with violators facing a punishment of up to $700. Smoking continued to be allowed in restaurants, bars and clubs but these places had to provide smoke-free areas. Hotels had to offer smoke-free rooms. Smoking was already banned in cinemas, sports arenas, airports and railway station. Smoking in taxis was banned in October 2007.
Tickets at the 2008 Olympics
Tickets ranged in price from $5 for events like baseball to $775 for the opening ceremony. A representative from the Beijing Olympics Organizing Committee promised that 7 million “very, very cheap” tickets would go on sale to the general public so that ordinary Chinese who don’t have much money can attend events.
Only a certain number of tickets was allocated to each country. Direct buying was an option available only to local residents of Beijing. The cut off date for the lottery to get tickets was in June 2007. CoSport was the sole official tour operator for the United States. Websites like TicketLiquidator.com sold thousands of tickets given to corporate sponsors.
Internet sales of tickets was fraught with problems. One director at the ticket center was fired. A system was set up to sell tickets on a first-come, first-serve basis over the Internet crashed after the system was overwhelmed with requests---8 million page views per hour. Telephones were also jammed. The plan was abandoned. Tickets were mostly sold through a lottery and were available at 1,000 branches of the Bank of China. Some waited all night outside the banks to get first dibs on available tickets. In the second major offering of tickets people were able to log on and choose tickets easy enough but were unable reach the payment page and finalize the transaction.
Torch Relay for the 2008 Olympics
Liu Xiang with the torch
Dubbed the “Journey of Harmony,” the Beijing Olympic torch relay lasted 130 days and reached 20 countries, five continents and the summit of Mr. Everest, with stops in London, Paris, Pyongyang and San Francisco and other major international cities. It was originally planned to involve more than 21,880 torchbearers and cover 137,000 kilometers, making it the longest torch relay with the most torch bearers ever, but plans were scaled back after protests along teh relay route over the Tibetan issue.
The Olympic torch itself was 72 centimeters tall and designed to withstand wind and rain. The official Olympic flame for the torch arrived in Beijing from Greece on a chartered Air China Airbus A330, decorated with an Olympic flame. The first person to meet the plane was China’s security chief. The flame was then carried in a special van, protected by a six-vehicle convoy, on a secret route into central Beijing. Several reserve lanterns, each with a “mother flame” lit in Greece, accompanied the relay in case the torch went out.
Chinese President Hu Jintao presided over the relighting of the Olympic torch in Beijing in March 2008. “I declare the torch relay of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games begun.” he said, and then handed the torch to Olympic gold-winning-hurdler Liu Xiang. In a ceremony in Tiananmen Square, balloons were released and confetti was fired in cannons, thousands of dancers performed. Among the 5,550 guests on hand were foreign diplomats and senior citizen cheerleaders who waited five hours for Hu and other dignitaries to show up. Much of the square was sealed off for security reasons.
In Beijing the Olympic flame was split in two. One was sent to Everest base Camp in Tibet, where it was stored until May when its journey to the summit of Everest took place.. The other went to Almaty, Kazakhstan, where the international relay began. The two flames were reunited Lhasa in June.
Torch Relay in China for the 2008 Olympics
After the controversial international leg of the Olympic torch relay was completed, the Olympic flame arrived back in China, where it was largely greeted by enthusiastic crowds and was not troubled by protests. The first stop was Hainan Island, where torch bearers included actor Jackie Chan, NBA basketball player Yi Jianlain and gold medal speed skater Yang Yang.
The Olympic torch was taken on a 40,000 kilometer trip through China, hitting all of China's 31 provinces and autonomous regions. The torch relay went off with few hitches in China. In Wenzhou the flame was temporarily put out because of over enthusiastic crowds. The relay was suspended for three days during the period of mourning for victims of the Sichuan earthquake.
In June, under tight security, the torch was carried for three hours through streets in Lhasa, where bloody protests were held only a couple of months before, from Norbulingka, the Dalai Lama’s former summer palace, to the square in front of Potala Palace. About half the 156 torch bearers were ethnic Tibetans. Hundreds of police and paramilitary troops lined the route. The city was effectively shutdown. Streets were deserted; shops were closed own. Onlookers, carefully screened beforehand, waved Chinese flags and chanted “Go China.” Lhasa was also the site of the reunion of the main torch with the one that was carried up Mt. Everest.
Along the torch route vendors sold T-shirts, Chinese flags, mini Chinese flags and headbands. They cut their prices in half after the torch passed. Many waved flags. Some wore T-shirts that said, “Love China, Oppose Division,” “Oppose Tibetan independence.”
A similar scene took place a few days before when the torch was taken through Kashgar and other cities in Xinjiang, where there is friction between Muslim Uighurs and the Chinese government. Shops and roads were closed; people were kept off the streets. Police were lined up along the street; black-gloved security guards jogged alongside the flame while screened onlookers cheered “Go China.” A total of 208 torchbearers, some of whom were Uighurs, carried the flame during its two hour run. The torch was also carried through Urumqi and two other cities Xinjiang. Most of these who turned out in Urumqi were Han Chinese.
There were reports of roundups of Uighurs before the torch relay in Xinjiang. The Munich-based World Uighur Congress said, “Everywhere homes, hotels are searched. People are arrested...Even people with no past records have been arrested simply because they look suspicious.” The group said that as many as 10,000 people were arrested in the four month period leading up to the torch relay in Xinjiang.
The torch did an emotional run through earthquake-stricken areas in Sichuan. The earthquake in Sichuan had shifted attention away from the controversy surrounding the Olympic torch relay.
On the final three-day leg in Beijing, basketball star Yao Ming carried the torch in front of the Forbidden City and Tiananmen before it was carried past other Beijing landmarks like the Temple of Heaven, the Great Wall of China and the cave where Peking Man bones were found as well as past new architectural wonders like egg-shaped National Center for the Performing Arts. Among the others who carried the torch were film director and Opening Ceremonies organizer Zhang Yimou and China’s first astronaut Yang Liwei, Crowds were small and tightly controlled.
The IOC has suggested in the future that perhaps future torch relays will be limited to the host country’s borders to avoid the protest that accompanied the relay before Beijing. The international leg of the relay for the Beijing Paraolympics was scrapped.
Torch Relay on Mt. Everest
The torch was taken through Lhasa in Tibet in June. The route in Tibet was shortened from three days to one day. The Chinese government warned that anyone who disrupted the torch relay in China or Tibet faced severe punishments. Both China and Nepal put Everest off limits during the Olympic torch relay. Some foreign journalists were denied access to the Everest area. The send off ceremony at the Everest base camp was canceled.
The Olympics torch was taken up Mt. Everest in May by a 31-member mountaineering team, and was photographed on the summit with Chinese and Olympics flags. The Olympics flame was carried in a special canister and passed to the torch with a special wand when the torch neared the summit. The torch was specially designed so the flame would stay lit in extremely cold, windy conditions with little oxygen.
There were plans to put in a 67-mile paved road to Mt. Everest base camp to make it easier to move the Olympic torch. These plans were put on hold in July 2007. Two cameramen and a CCTV broadcaster trained two years for the Everest ascent.
Preparations for 2008 Olympics by Chinese Athletes
For Chinese athletes, a premium was put on youth in the years running up to the 2008 Olympics. At the Olympics in 2004, if there were two athletes of relatively equal ability the younger one was chosen so that he or she could be nurtured for the 2008 Olympics. This was even the case with Olympic champions. In table tennis, a defending gold medalist was left off the team to make way for an up and coming 21-year-old prospect. The same was true with the inclusion of a 14-year-old diver on the team.
An effort was made to expand the range of sports that China performed well in. At the Olympics in 2004, Chinese athletes dominated sports like table tennis, badminton, shooting, diving and women’s weightlifting as they had in recent years but also had success in sports that they had traditionally not been as good at such as judo, tennis and sailing. The strategy worked to soe degree. While maintaining their traditional dominance in diving, gymnastics, table tennis and badminton, Chinese athletes also scored gold medals in women's weightlifting, archery, shooting and other sports. Chinese athletes competed in 26 of 28 sports and even won a gold medal in the 500 meter two-man canoeing event.
US Olympic Committee chairman Peter Ueberroth has said that the Americans must learn from the Chinese example, “China has been systematically targeting every single available medal, and we're going to have to do that in the future. The resources that they put toward their Olympic team and the population base and the dedication is fantastic. It's much more difficult for the rest of the world to compete, but that's the way it should be.”
An efforts was also made to get the best coaches from around the world. Del Harris, a former NBA coach, was tapped to coach the men’s national basketball team. It has also invested heavily in sports that give out lots of medals and have relatively light competition such as judo, weightlifting and shooting.
Olympic historian David Wallechinsky predicts that China would win the medal count for the first time in its history. He told the Washington Post, “You will see them achieving success across the broad, except for track and swimming, which are all really difficult sports to break through in.” China aimed to prove him wrong on the last point. In the 1990s China launched Project 119 to improve its performance in swimming, aquatics and track and field, which account for 119 of the 310 gold medals.
For the most part Chinese athletes were restricted from talking to the media to minimize their distractions and keep them focused on their training. Foreign journalists in search of interviews had to navigate through the tangled bureaucracy and inevitably had their requests turned down. Chinese athletes were more accessible when they were outside China.
Image Sources: Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad, Xinhua
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated July 2011