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China sprint towards Beijing 2008
August 30, 2004 13:14 IST
While celebrating unprecedented success at the Athens Olympics, China has its sights firmly set on the Beijing Games in four years when they hope to present the country's new face to the world.
The government has thrown its full weight behind the Games as a badge of legitimacy for the ruling Communist Party, a yardstick for judging three decades of reforms and a symbol of China's rising global clout.
"The international community gave us their vote of confidence," deputy Chinese delegation head Duan Shijie said.
"Now it is up to China to repay that by making our contribution to the development of the Olympic movement."
The official slogan for the 2008 Games is "Green Olympics, High-tech Olympics, People's Olympics", but the old Scouting movement motto "Be Prepared" might better characterise China's priorities at this stage.
China plans to spend $37 billion on the Games, at least $2 billion of which will go towards ultra-modern Olympic facilities, many of which are already under construction.
Venues are so far along, with completion originally planned for 2006, that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has suggested a slow down.
"This is very ambitious and perhaps even a bit too early," the Chinese Olympic Committee website quoted the IOC as saying.
But perhaps the city is lucky it has a head start.
Beijing has pushed back the deadline for completion of its ambitious "bird's nest" Olympic Stadium to 2007.
Engineers are also considering scrapping the retractable roof to trim an estimated $36 million from its $423 million price tag.
Rumours abound that the 100,000-seat stadium is one of several sites dangerously over budget.
Steel use at the Olympic swimming centre, dubbed the "Water Cube", is being scaled back by around 25 percent to keep the $120 million facility within budget, China's Financial News said on Friday.
China expects Olympic operational expenses to reach $2 billion by 2008, while infrastructure development and environmental clean-up could cost over $31 billion.
The final bill for the Athens Games is expected to be more than double the original estimates at close to 10 billion euros ($12.08 billion).
A large part of Beijing's infrastructure spending is going towards building new roads and underground railway lines, three of which are scheduled to open before 2008 to ease the city's crippling traffic problems.
Even the Forbidden City, perhaps Beijing's most famous landmark, is getting a thorough makeover before the Olympics.
Chinese athletes are under heavy pressure to be in equally good shape.
"An outstanding performance by the national team is definitely a crucial step to the success of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games," a China Daily commentary said on Friday.
Chinese sports authorities criticised domestic media and some national athletes for overconfidence before the Athens Games, leading to some unexpected failures, but that has not stemmed lofty expectations for 2008.
"History shows that host nations get higher than normal gold medal counts. Following this rule, Chinese athletes could do surprisingly well at the Beijing Olympics," the Global Times newspaper said.
China stacked its 407-strong team at Athens with young athletes to groom future champions, and the squad still easily surpassed its modest goal of 20 golds, taking a best ever 32 golds for second place in the medal count.
"Getting the right to host the Games increased the Chinese people's zeal for sports and that has motivated our athletes to do better and better," Duan said.
Surprise golds, like the victory of Li Ting and Sun Tiantian in women's doubles tennis, made up for some disappointing performances from medal favourites such as the men's gymnastics side, which finished fifth in the team event and only produced one gold.
"The rivals were much stronger than they expected," Xiao Tian, a Chinese Olympic Committee vice-president, said.
With so much more on the line in 2008, it is a safe bet that the gymnasts will be better prepared.
The semi-official China News quoted "The Beijing Olympics will definitely be ours" men's gymnastics coach Huang Yu as saying on Wednesday.
China, which had never won an Olympic gold in athletics, had a night to remember on Friday with Liu Xiang winning the men's 110 metres hurdles gold medal and Xing Huina winning the women's 10,000 metres gold.
"My victory has proved that athletes with yellow skin can run as fast as those with black and white skin," said Liu, 21.
"This is a miracle, but I believe a lot more miracles will take place in China."(Additional reporting by Paul Eckert in Athens)