By Ren Ke (China Features)
For most of the people, the Beijing Olympics was unforgettable. They will remember Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps, and those athletes who won their countries’ first ever medals. The Chinese will remember most not the record of 51 gold medals, but the jubilant 16 days they presented to the outside world.
From Aug. 8 to 24, the Games were in the world’s spotlight. Besides the joy and sorrow they experienced at the sports events, visitors were entertained by the hospitable citizens and volunteers, the well-organized events, and the fantastic sports venues.
“These were truly exceptional Games,” said International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge, before he declared the Games closed in front of 90,000 jubilant spectators in the National Stadium, or the Bird’s Nest.
Since the Olympic flame was extinguished on the evening of Aug. 24, the jubilant mood lingers in the hearts of ordinary people. A Beijing resident named Bu Ju remembered the excitement.
“When I was in the sports venues, the most English words I said were ‘Where are you from’,” said Bu, “It was like a huge international party. I was very proud of the country hosting the whole world.”
The Games attracted a record number of participants – from a record 204 IOC member countries and regions. At the opening ceremony, more than 80 heads of states and governments were present, the most in Olympic history. American broadcaster NBC found the Games was the most watched U.S. television event of all time.
Although the IOC appealed against attempts to politicize the Games, many people still view the Olympics from beyond the sports and thus attendance or non-attendance became a political issue in some countries.
After earlier hinting that he would not attend the opening ceremony, French President Nicolas Sarkozy finally appeared in the Bird’s Nest on Aug. 8. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was criticized by his predecessor, Jean Chretien, for not attending.
“When the international community voted for Beijing to host the Games seven years ago, they had trust in China’s reform and opening-up policy,” said Professor Hu Angang, profession with Tsinghua University. “The clustering of foreign state leaders and elites at the opening ceremony again showed that the international community had voted in favor the direction of the country’s development.”
China’s development dates from 1978, when the whole country had just emerged from the mass mania of the 10-year Cultural Revolution. The people were more focused on trying to feed themselves, and hosting an Olympic Games was inconceivable. China even had to give up hosting the Asian Games in 1978 because it lacked enough sports facilities.
The past three decades have seen an average GDP growth rate of almost 10 percent a year, making China the world’s fourth largest economy after the United States, Japan and Germany. With economic power, China had put 40 billion U.S. dollars into hosting the Games.
In 2001, China entered the World Trade Organization (WTO), the same year it won the bid to host the 2008 Olympics.
“After 30 years of development, China, with a population of 1.3 billion, has really become a part of the world and the biggest stakeholder,” said Hu.
The Olympics gave China another chance to adopt international practices. IOC officials, foreign administrative teams and foreign sponsors were engaged deeply in the Games. From the design of the Bird’s Nest, to the broadcasting and administrative work, they helped improve the level of the Games.
More international cooperation, more foreigners in Beijing. Currently, the city’s police department estimated almost 500,000 foreigners were in Beijing, permanently and temporarily, a 42-percent increase over the same period the previous year.
“When I saw foreigners in Beijing’s streets a decade ago, I probably would stop and look at them,” said Bu, “but I will not do that again. Foreigners are a dime a dozen here.”
Changes are huge compared with the 1990 Asian Games in Beijing. A veteran Chinese journalist recalled that during the Asian Games, volunteers acted like guards and policemen in front of journalists. They often stopped “suspicious” persons for questioning.
“Yet, during the 2008 Olympics, every volunteer had a smile, and journalists faced few difficulties in reporting,” the journalist said on condition of anonymity.
In the meantime, Chinese people also learned about human rights in foreign countries. The Chinese authorities set up three designated protest zones in three parks, two in downtown and another in the outskirts of the city.
Although the zones saw no protests, police officials said that as the government resolved the complaints after negotiations with applicants, the would-be protesters withdrew their applications.
When being proud of leading the gold medal count, the Chinese showed none of the excessive nationalism feared by some foreign media before the Games. As some internet users said, China did not need gold medals to show its power.
“Through these Games, the world learned more about China, and China learned more about the world,” said Rogge in his speech at the closing ceremony.
Hosting the Games was more of a challenge considering the ordeals China experienced this year. The year of the mouse in the traditional Chinese lunar calendar has been extraordinary, featuring natural and man-made calamities. In March, Tibetan separatists ran riot in Lhasa and the Tibetan-inhabited regions in neighboring provinces.
On May 12, the 8.0-magnitude earthquake in southwest China’s Sichuan Province killed almost 70,000 people. In a mournful mood, the whole country immediately mobilized for relief work.
Tibetan separatists disrupted the Olympic torch relay in France and other countries. When the nation mourned for the quake dead from May 19 to 21, the torch relay was halted for three days.
However, when basketball star Yao Ming went into the Bird’s Nest as flag bearer of Chinese team, he was with 7-year-old Lin Hao, a quake survivor from Sichuan, China showed it had overcome the trials.
“The Beijing Games is testimony to the fact that the world has its trust rested in China,” said Liu Qi, president of the Beijing Organizing Committee of the Games. “The Chinese people, filled with enthusiasm, have honored the commitments they solemnly made.”
Although the Games have ended, the legacy stays. Fascinated by the clear skies in those days, people are calling for continued controls on the use of vehicles after the Games.
“The Games gave us a more open and mature attitude,” said Professor Hu Jiqing from Nanjing University. “This attitude featured magnanimity, tolerance and pluralism.
“More importantly, it embodies a more confident nation,” said the professor Hu.
When American female volleyball team, headed by Coach Lang Ping, a former Chinese star player, defeated China in the semifinals, Chinese did not rebuke her as “traitor”. When sprinter Liu Xiang, gold medalist of 110m hurdle in Athens 2004 and one of China’s most famous athletes, quit the games because of an injured Achilles’ tendon, most Chinese expressed their understanding.
Just 20 years ago, Chinese gymnast Li Ning, who won three gold medals in 1984 Los Angeles Games, found a bullet in an anonymous envelope after his poor performance in Seoul Games in 1988.
Thanks to the 30 years of development, Chin is more open-minded and confident, and hopes to merge more with the world in the spirit of the Olympic slogan “One World, One Dream”.
“Inspired by the Olympic spirit, the Chinese people want to join with people of all other countries to write a new chapter for the international Olympic Movement, and create a better future for mankind,” said Chinese President Hu Jintao in an group interview with foreign media before the Games.