Giant on the move
900 days on, my Games begin
I’d like to write that when I first arrived in Beijing on that freezing February morning in 2006, I spied, through the gloom and smog, the number 900 on the Olympic countdown clock that sits beside the airport highway.
I can’t do that, sadly — I don’t remember it, and I’m not even sure the countdown clocks were up by then — but that is, by my calculation, what it would have read on my first day in China.
This morning I did see a clock and it read zero. In the intervening two-and-a-half years I have lived and breathed the Beijing Olympics and must have written today’s date, the eighth of the eighth 2008, hundreds of times.
I remember the 800 day countdown very well. I had gone to Jingsong No.4 School in central Beijing to write a story about the Olympic education programme.
Rather than the quick tour of a classroom and chat with a few children, however, I found myself seated on a platform alongside the local dignitaries and Olympic badminton silver medallist Dong Jiong as the whole school performed Olympic-themed activities in front of us.
As one of the “honoured guests”, I then had to walk across the stage and place a crepe ribbon on a big cardboard cut-out of the numbers 8-0-0.
The 700, 600, 500, and 400 countdowns must have been marked but I can’t remember how.
I do remember the fierce heat on Tiananmen Square when IOC president Jacques Rogge spoke at the ceremony to mark the one-year countdown for the Games last August.
I had interviewed the good doctor straight from the airport the day before and I think it was dawning on him just how serious the pollution problem was. Most of his previous visits to Beijing had been in the golden days of spring or autumn.
I was back on Tiananmen with 130 days to go to watch President Hu Jintao hand the Olympic torch to Liu Xiang before the high hurdler ran the first few steps of a journey that would take the flame around the world into protest and controversy.
With 114 days to go, I got back into the Bird’s Nest for the first time in two years to see the wonderful state of the art stadium that had replaced the dirt and rough concrete bowl I had seen in 2006.
Two weeks later, when the 100 day countdown was marked in Beijing, I was at Everest Base Camp in Tibet. I would have been gazing up at the world’s highest peak hoping the snow would clear so the torch bearers could get the Olympic flame to the top and we could all get out of the freezing cold and back to an altitude where human beings can function properly.
There have been many more events, including the hundreds of organising committee news conferences that have often tested my boredom threshold. Thankfully, the talking is over now.
Let the Games begin!
Nick Mulvenney is Reuters sports correspondent, China. Click here to see a video of Nick talking about the final countdown to the Beijing Olympics.
PHOTO: Members of Spain’s synchronised swimming team attend practice at the National Aquatics Centre, also known as the Water Cube, ahead of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games August 7, 2008. Picture taken with a fisheye lens underwater. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay