OLYMPICS / Columns

London prepares to take the baton
By Josephine McDermott
Chinadaily.com.cn Staff Writer
Updated: 2008-08-20 17:59


With four days to go before China hands over the Olympic baton to England, I can't help but think my home country must be feeling like the weight of the world is on its shoulders.

And so it should be. I've lived in London most of my life and moved to China nine months ago. Having experienced how well Beijing has hosted the Games, I know my home town has a lot to live up to.

For one, the impact that the "Bird's Nest" and the "Water Cube" make will be hard to top. On Sunday, I was lucky enough to have a ticket for the athletics at the National Stadium. We have lots of stadiums in London what with our love of football. But as I walked up the steps of the Bird's Nest and got my first glimpse of the inside, it took my breath away. The Bird's Nest is a thing of beauty. From the outside the lattice work gives little hint of the gargantuan stage inside.

But beyond the stadium, the whole of the Olympic Park features modern, innovative design, which is cutting edge by world standards. This has surprised everyone. Many commentators in the UK are already saying it is unrealistic to try and emulate the spectacle created both by the opening ceremony and the Olympic Park, because we do not have the same size budget or geographic footprint at our disposal.

But my concern is that taking the Olympics out of the equation, London already falls behind Beijing in some ways. For example, in London, if I want to travel 30km on the underground or metro it costs a lot more than 2 yuan. Then Londoners, like Parisians, have a reputation for being bad-tempered with visitors. Beijing has excelled in welcoming foreigners. It is as if the whole city has treated us like house guests. Most foreigners I've spoken to have tales of Beijingers reaching out to them with kind gestures, from the man who offered my friend plasters for her feet on the metro when he noticed they looked sore, to a frail, elderly lady who put up a fight with another friend when she offered her her seat on the train.

Just yesterday, in a hotpot restaurant it felt more like visiting my granny's house than a public eatery. Plus, we won't be able to offer anything like as big an army of helpful, smiling volunteers. In fact, it's hard enough to get some of London's young people to work, never mind volunteer. The cynicism in London means that many people see changes planned for the Olympics in a negative way. A storm is brewing over the use of Greenwich Park as the venue for the equestrian cross-county event, for example.

Despite the difficult job London is facing, I wouldn't miss the handover in the closing ceremony on Sunday for anything and nothing will stop me being in London for the 2012 Games. Rumor has it David Beckham will be driven into the Bird's Nest on a double decker bus on Sunday when the handover takes place. The Royal Ballet will also perform alongside hip hop dancers. And that sums up what London can offer - a mixing pot of variety. From the noblest arts to modern street culture, London has it in bags, plus a smattering of global celebrities, a fair share of design icons, a sense of humor and a great sense of occasion. Hopefully, this will overcome any failings. But thank you Beijing for raising the bar.

The author is a British journalist from London working as an editor in China.

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