sharing the Olympic spirit
OLYMPICS/ Spotlight

2008 Olympics poised to be most memorable Games
Updated: 2008-01-21 11:06


BEIJING -- Just 200 days away, the Beijing Olympics is poised to be the most memorable Games in history.

China has waited almost 100 years for the Olympic Games and sees the August 8-24 sports spectacle as an opportunity to showcase itself to the world.

"The Olympic Games is not simply a sports event and its meaning is beyond sports itself," said Wei Jizhong, a former vice president of the Chinese Olympic Committee and currently a senior consultant with the Beijing Organizing Committee (BOCOG).

Nothing shows the ambitions better than the large scale of infrastructure construction. China has spent billions of dollars on a makeover of the capital city that includes new highways, an extended subway system and a new airport terminal as well as massive construction on sports facilities.

After seven years' preparations, the hour of reckoning is soon to come.

"Under the full sport of our government and people, all types of preparation work for the Games are going smoothly, according to schedule," said BOCOG executive vice president Liu Jingmin. "The conditions for Beijing holding a successful Olympics are almost mature."

Work on the 37 competition venues is coming to an end with 36 already inaugurated and the showpiece National Stadium, known as the "Bird's Nest" for its giant latticework structure of metal girders, is expected to be put into operation next March.

The public are obsessed with a massive hunt for a chance to be part of the greatest show on Earth.

More than 800,000 people have applied for a volunteer's post, while hundreds of thousands of candidates chased the 19,400 domestic torchbearer berths available, all keen to join in a historical relay that will see the flame travel an unprecedented 137,000 kilometers around the world, culminating in an awe-inspiring ascent over Mt. Qomolangma.

Old habits are also being demolished.

Etiquette campaigns were launched to stamp out bad manners like queue-jumping, spitting, littering and cursing in public. Millions of brochures were sent out to individuals to introduce a new code of conduct, while polishing courses are being offered to all civil servants and the people working in the service sector, such as cab drivers, shopping assistants, waiters and waitresses, and bus conductors.

English translations popularly known as "Chinglish" is also out. Hotlines have been set up for citizens who spot an English-language-related mistake on a public sign to call and notify the authorities.

China's financial goals have also been met with revenue from the Games expected to exceed original target. The Beijing Olympics has 60 sponsors and suppliers, almost 50 percent more than Athens in 2004.

However, despite the enormous efforts that Beijing has made, some preparations for the Olympics are proving harder to control.

There are persistent concerns about the level of air pollution in Beijing and International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge said twice publicly last year that some endurance events might be rescheduled if the air is too dirty during next August.

But local officials believe it will improve significantly by the time the games start.

Du Shaozhong, deputy director of the municipal bureau of environmental protection, said the city will order at least one third of 3.3 million vehicles off the road during the 16-day Olympics and close dust-spewing construction sites and polluting factories.

"I am confident that Beijing's air quality in August will meet the World Health Organization's standards," he said.

Almost a year out, at least one verdict is there.

"For many reasons, political, social, historical, there will be more focus on these Olympic Games in China than there has been on any others for many, many years," Steve Roush, head of sports performance for the U.S. Olympic Committee, said during his visit last August.

"It will be a spectacle that will grip the world."

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