Changing China

Giant on the move

Long March to the Bird’s Nest

May 28, 2008

Workmen walk on the roof of Beijing’s “Bird’s Nest” National Stadium as the Good Luck Beijing China Athletics Open is being heldWatching athletics at the“Bird’s Nest” National Stadium is a dream for many Chinese people but it turned into nightmare for me last weekend.

We set off last Friday to see the titanic building and a relatively low-key athletics meeting mainly contested by young Chinese athletes.

There were, however, still tens of thousands of people at the showpiece venue for Beijing Olympics, most of whom were looking forward to a first glimpse inside the stadium and to watching their hero Liu Xiang in action.

But our passions gradually died long before we entered the Bird’s Nest.

It took us nearly one and a half hours from seeing the stadium from the road to actually getting anywhere near it.

Every junction was gridlocked and we had to drive another 3 kms further down the fourth ring road, which runs alongside the Olympic Green, to find a place to turn around.

Twenty minutes later, we reached an entrance of the stadium only to find that there was no parking lot.

“Go! Go straight!” one cop shouted to us at a crossroads. Several more shouted the same phrase at us as we continued and we drove more than 2 km more before finally parking our car in a temporary “car park” on the curb as the cops directed.

From there it should have been 15 minutes walk to our destination but we were not that lucky. Heading back to the entrance we had past earlier, we found chaos with hundreds of people milling around. China's Li successfully clears the bar in the Men's pole vault final at the Good Luck Beijing China Athletics Open

“Closed! Closed! There are too many people! We can’t bear it!” one officials shouted. “We will take you to another entrance soon, by free bus!”

Less than a minute later, an empty bus arrived but there was only room to take a very small portion of the anxious crowd. The others stood in lines, waiting for another bus.

Officials, police and volunteers shouted through loudspeakers, asking people to keep calm and orderly.

But they seemed incredibly anxious themselves, as if they were surprised to see so many people. All this with a crowd of only about 30,000 making its way into the 91,000-seater stadium.

“I can’t imagine what will happen here when the Olympic Games come,” said one man standing close to me. “They should be prepared for the event better than this.”

At one stage, some people behind us in the queue suddenly ran back to the gate, saying that it had been re-opened. We decided to wait on.

The second bus came ten minutes later and took us by a circuitous route to another gate on the opposite side of the stadium.

From there it was another 15-minute walk, through at least three security checkpoints, before reached the Bird’s Nest at last.

China's world and Olympic champion Liu prepares to run in the heats of the Men's 110m Hurdles at the Good Luck Beijing China Athletics Open held at Beijing's It was 8:30pm by then, one and a half hours after the action had started.

Another curious thing happened in the stadium when the athletes were being introduced.

“Lane one…” the announcer said. “From China!” (who?)

“Lane two…from China!” (who? again)

“Lane three…from China!”

Oh God, I know we Chinese don’t have lots of good runners besides Liu, but they could have found a list of their names.

Pictures by David Gray 

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