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Athens to inspire Beijing games
By Xing Zhigang (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-08-14 00:37

Hundreds of millions of Chinese viewers will be glued to Athens Olympics on the television over the next 17 days.

The four-yearly Olympic mania has swept through China since 1984 when the country sent its first delegation to the Games in Los Angeles.

With the Beijing 2008 Olympics in mind, the nation seems to have even more enthusiasm in the Athens Games. The connection between Athens and Beijing has actually become so evident that it can be felt everywhere from the Chinese Olympic squad and media reports to the preparations for the 2008 Games.

China has sent its biggest Olympic delegation ever -- 407 athletes and 230 coaches and officials -- to Athens, hoping to relive its glory at the Sydney Games in 2000.

Four years ago the country came third in the medal table behind the United States and Russia, its best ever Olympic finish.

Li Furong, vice-president of the Chinese delegation, has disclosed that China has selected younger athletes this time with an eye towards preparing a competitive team for the Beijing Olympics.

Even the Chinese public has demonstrated a wide-ranging interests in the Athens Games, sharply contrasting with their past preoccupation with the number of gold medals won by the Chinese Olympians.

"We used to pay attention to only the performance of our Chinese athletes because it was something that concerned us most," says a Beijing-based taxi driver Liu Fu.

He explains that for him the Olympic Games was just another sports event.

"But given that it will be Beijing's turn to hold such a spectacular event next time, we Beijingers now have more to care about this year and we have never felt so close to the Olympic Games," Liu says.

Wang Yan, a student at the University of International Business and Economics, says the Athens Olympics are an important prelude to the Beijing Games in 2008.

"The two cities, both cradles of human civilization, have shared many aspects in their long history and ancient culture," she says.

"So what we see in the Athens Games may be the same as what will happen in Beijing and this may be the main reason for our great passion for this year's event."

For instance, both Athens and Beijing face the problem of how to ensure that the style and landscape of their Olympic projects conforms with their traditional architectural styles.

What's more, Wang adds, it is natural for people to compare the host cities of the Olympics, which may also encourage the Chinese people to focus more on Athens.

At the same time, Olympic-related organizations in China have taken advantage of their participation in the Athens Games to prepare for the 2008 event.

China Central Television (CCTV), the country's flagship media organization, has sent a team of 160 reporters and technicians to cover the Athens Games.

It also has more than 400 people working around-the-clock at its Beijing headquarters to broadcast the event to the nation.

Preparation bid

Renting a total of six satellite lines, CCTV plans to air 1,400 hours of programmes covering about 2,200 events -- twice the amount of coverage of the Sydney Games -- on six channels, including a 24-hour sports channel and two subscription channels.

CCTV has also been entrusted by the International Olympic Committee for the first time to help offer TV footage of matches in table tennis, badminton and modern pentathlon for international transmission.

CCTV Sports Centre Director Ma Guoli hopes wide coverage of the Athens Olympics will help lay solid foundation for its broadcasts of the 2008 Games.

"We are trying to train more presenters and commentators, using the Athens Games as part of our preparatory work for the 2008 Games," he says.

"I do hope our team will benefit from its experience in Athens so that we are able to do a better job of broadcasting the Beijing 2008 Games to the whole world."

Yi Jiandong, an associate professor at Beijing Sport University, says the Athens Games will be of great significance to organizers of the Beijing event.

"The organizers of the Beijing Olympiad can learn a lot from the Athens Games," he told China Daily.

Yi, a leading researcher on Olympic studies in China, notes that preparations for the Athens Games have proven to be of immense importance in establishing a strong leadership and drafting a sound and reasonable plan for the Beijing Games.

Excellent management of the preparations and effective co-ordination among related departments are both vital to the final success of the Beijing Games, he says.

In the meantime, preparation of both hardware and software facilities for the Beijing Games should be given equal emphasis.

"Compared with Athens, it seems Beijing should do more and harder work in improving the software environment, such as the training of volunteers and the education of the audience," the associate professor says.

The Chinese media has also urged the country to take concrete moves to enhance the quality of potential Chinese spectators.

A recent commentary in the Outlook news magazine says the opening of the Athens Games will prompt the international community to pay more attention to China, as well as the behaviour of its people.

It adds that by holding the Olympic Games the host country will open a window for the outside world to determine its overall national strength and the quality of its people.

While international opinion is confident that China's fast-rising national strength will ensure a successful Games in 2008, the quality of the Chinese people has yet to be tested, according to the article.

It suggests that the Athens Games will provide the Chinese public with an opportunity to learn about how to be a good host in 2008.

Learning from Athens

Li Wei, an anti-terrorism expert at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, says the huge security cost at the Athens Games should also be a lesson for Beijing.

Greece has so far spent an unprecedented 1.2 billion euros (US$1.5 billion) on the Games' security, five times more than that of the Sydney Games.

"That reminds us of the significance of guaranteeing security for the 2008 Games amid a deteriorating security environment," he says.

"Many security measures should be phased in now although the Games are for another four years."

In fact, China has already began to learn from Greece in how to organize a cost-effective Olympic Games.

Gu Yaoming, secretary-general of the Chinese Olympic Committee, says he has been greatly impressed by the frugal and practical way of Greece in hosting the Games.

"The Greek people have done a very practical work rather than engaging in only elaborate things," he says.

"I strongly feel we should use their experience as reference."

As one of the signs that the host of the 2008 Games is learning from this experience, Beijing has moved to revise its plans for the construction of Olympic stadiums in line with the principle of saving costs and reducing potential financial risks.

Du Wei, deputy director of the Beijing Association for Olympic Economy Studies reportedly said Olympic projects will undergo appropriate cutbacks.

More existing stadiums will be brought into full use, while the size and standard of new stadiums will be appropriately adjusted, Du was quoted as saying by the Guangzhou-based 21st Century Business Herald.

These savings will be ploughed back into infrastructure construction, such as addressing traffic congestion and air pollution in the capital city.

The revision is expected to help cut costs by billions of yuan, according to Du.

As the first step in the revision, Beijing has halted construction on the 100,000-seat "bird's nest" stadium, designed as a centerpiece venue for the 2008 Olympics with a budget of 3.5 billion yuan (US$423 million).

Media reports said the ambitious design, with bands of steel stretching every which way to resemble a bird's nest, was originally designed with a retractable roof, but will now be an open-air venue.

A roofless design would save an estimated 400 million yuan (US$48.37 million) and 10,000 tons of steel, top engineering consultant Shen Shizhao of the Chinese Academy of Engineering was quoted as saying.

On the other hand, the deadline for the completion of all Olympic projects has also been postponed from the end of 2006 to the end of 2007, the 21st Century Business Herald reported.

"The idea of delaying the completion deadline is inspired by the Athens Games, which saw the completion of its main stadium just in time for the opening of the Games," says Ge Jiaqi, chief structure engineer at the Chinese Institute of Aviation Plan and Design.

"In comparison, our original demand for completion of all Olympic projects in the second half of 2006 appears quite unnecessary."

Sports researchers says completing Olympic projects too early will increase operational cost.

On Friday, the Beijing organizing committee officially confirmed the delay of venue construction upon the advice of the IOC Co-ordination Commission for the 2008 Olympic Games.

"The venue construction should be completed at a right time, neither too early nor too late," Liu Jingmin, executive vice-president of Beijing organizing committee, told a press conference in Athens.

"What we said in the bid book is to complete the construction of the stadiums by the end of 2006, then we will do the installation and testing by 2007, so it doesn't run contradictory to the IOC request." said Liu.

He added that all the venues will be ready in succession in the year of 2007.

In Athens, one final connection to the Beijing Games is a symbolic ceremony at the August 29 closing of the Games where Beijing Mayor Wang Qishan will be handed the Olympic flag, signalling the formal transition of the Games to Beijing.

Then 170 Chinese performers will stage an eight-minute traditional Chinese art performance, entitled "From Olympia to the Great Wall."

Earlier reports said that the performance will be directed by world-famous Chinese film director Zhang Yimou.

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