Beijing Olympics: A Year On

Posted by Charlie @ Discovering Mandarin Saturday, 8 August 2009
Beijing Olympics 2008. The 29th Olympiad
同一个世界 同一个梦想一年后
(One World, One Dream) One Year on.

The Olympic Games in Beijing were an important step in bringing the World closer to China, at a crucial time when China is undergoing significant changes. They were the most successful ever Olympics for Chinese athletes. A total of 11,028 athletes from 204 National Olympic Committees competed in 302 events in 28 sports. Chinese athletes won the most gold medals, with 51 golds, and 100 medals altogether. The United States won more total medals than any other country with 110, 36 of which were gold. Michael Phelps broke the records for most gold medals in one Olympics and for most career gold medals for an Olympian, and equaled the record for most individual golds at a single Games.

It has been reported that the Beijing Olympics was the world’s first genuine ‘1 Billion’ television audience. The opening ceremony was the world's "most watched live event" in human history, exceeding moon landings, Princess Diana’s funeral and Barack Obama's inauguration. The show "appealed to the huge domestic Chinese audience but resonated globally too”.

Benefits China have seen from the Olympics include raising the profile of sports and health within China, patriotism has been boosted especially internally as the torch relay and Games themselves helped unite disparate parts of China and especially the younger generation with a common knowledge, and pride in their country.

China have set Aug 6, 7 and 8 as National Fitness Days. “It is arousing people's sense of pride and makes us more patriotic.” Andre, a Chinese student told me “For the environment, Beijing’s sky is blue-r than ever. Transportation gets better too, though we still get traffic jams.” The Chinese have tried to keep pollution levels down in Beijing, with several policies, although some local authorities in the more rural and industrial areas are less favourable than that of Beijing. Beijing has seen the biggest amount of change, with old buildings being pulled down for the Olympic villages, Building new infrastructure adding to the metro system and giving newer lines much-needed air conditioning. Officials also added new rules to the highways to reduce traffic. Whilst losing some history, Beijing, and China are carving a new one; A brave new China.

The government issued a series of about 4,000 temporary measures and regulations on food safety, the environment, traffic management, public safety and health before the Games. Many of them have since been renewed or made permanent. These include ongoing efforts to reduce pollution in Beijing, Beijing is enjoying the best air quality this decade because of measures taken during last year's Olympic Games, officials have said. Officials are introducing new policies to help continue this. As of October 1st, vehicles will only be allowed to travel along or within Beijing's Sixth Ring Road, the city's outermost highway loop, if their exhaust emissions comply with National Emission Standard I. However, as of 2010 Beijing it will be following Standard IV across the city on all new cars.

Some Chinese still think the money could have been better spent though; Kristina explained to me “I would prefer the government to put more money on making the farmers and the poorer people’s life better.” Whilst others are disappointed, that so many traditional buildings were pulled down in the creation of the ‘Olympic City’. “Lots of new and modern buildings make Beijing really strange for me.” A Beijing resident of 32 years, Semmy told me; “There are always lots more tourists than before the games, now it is more crowded than ever.” Whilst there are disappointments, there are a plethora of benefits that can be seen day to day. The economy is growing, in a time of global economic doubt, and the newfound openness is bringing more and more interest in Westerners learning about Chinese culture and the Chinese Language.

Chaoyang Park stadium where the beach volleyball was played out is now The Sun Beach Theme Park where children can bury themselves in sand. Whilst Russian ballet dancers and synchronised swimmers have been wowing the crowds with a version of Swan Lake at the Water Cube. The Birds Nest tonight sees its first sports action as the Italian Cup Final is played between Lazio and Inter Milan, but only after a world record attempt has been attempted. 30,000 people are gathering for a mass display of the martial art tai chi, if successful, it will earn a place in the Guinness Book of Records.

The splendid stadium, with its ornate steel lattice exterior, has been little used since the closing ceremony a year ago; an opera, a couple of pop concerts, yet no sports until tonight. It seems that the tourism (4.5 million visitors who have visited the Bird's Nest since it opened to the public in September 2008. The nearby Water Cube, the National Aquatics Centre, has received 3.8 million people.)has been enough to cover maintenance costs though as thousands flock daily to see the double monument; The Birds Nest stadium and the Water Cube. Despite this lack of sport at the Birds Nest, the Olympics are thought to have made an estimated $174 million profit according to China's National Audit Office.

One sport that seems to have really taken off is Chinese Basketball. The popular sport has seen the NBA investing in Chinese Basketball building 12 new Arenas around the country.
Many see Shanghai’s World EXPO next year as the economic Olympics. The Chinese will be looking forward to once again showing themselves off to the world, bringing us another step closer to fully understanding each other’s cultures. The Chinese are now much more confident on a global scale, and it is partially due to the fact that since the Olympic Games and especially the handling of foreign journalists in August last year.

It is worth noting; One of, if not the greatest lasting legacy of the Beijing Olympics has been allowing foreign journalists more access to events taking place in the country. The coverage of the July 5th riots, were much more transparent than that of the riots in Tibet last August, and this just goes to show that China’s confidence is growing with its openness to the West. Though it may have a long way to go, China has seen massive improvements in its Journalism, Pollution and Health reforms. The Chinese mystery is starting to unravel a little, and just enough for people to become more interested in learning Mandarin Chinese and travel to China. All of which have a lot to thank the Olympics for. For me personally, The Olympics were just the start of my adventure, discovering both Mandarin, and China.

Charlie Southwell
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