Giant on the move
I’ve worked intermittently in Beijing for 11 years and in Taipei for 15, but analysing the world’s most populous nation, and an opaque one for that matter, is like a blind man feeling an elephant.
In many ways, I expect it to be business as usual for the Communist Party post-Olympics, resisting political change and tightening the security noose in restive Tibet and Xinjiang. But my money is also on ordinary Chinese clamouring for greater freedoms and forcing their government to be more transparent and accountable.
Chinese have never had it this good since the 1949 revolution, enjoying unprecedented personal freedoms after three decades of liberalisation transformed the country from an economic backwater into the world’s fourth-biggest economy.
The Water Cube was almost silent as a slight blonde man who two years earlier was not even diving leapt off the ten metre platform, twisted and somersaulted through the air and slid into the water with just the slightest of splashes.
Matthew Mitcham resurfaced to an explosion of applause and as the judges’ scores came up his smile of delight dissolved into tears of disbelief.
The Beijing Olympic Games closed on Sunday, as China passed on the flame to London.
Former IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch was in the habit of describing each Games as “the best ever”, with the notable exception of Atlanta in 1996.
Join us for the 16th and last podcast from the Beijing Olympics. We cast an eye back over the best moments of the Games, discuss Beijing’s world ranking and look ahead to quite a contrast with the next Olympics in London.
Julian Linden, Belinda Goldsmith, Nick Mulvenney and Robert F Woodward join me for the festivities. And Laura, that line at the start is really only a joke…
At the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. I shall never forget sitting in the front row and watching Ben Johnson hurtling towards the finish line in the 100 metres and then raising his hand aloft in an almost contemptuous “I am Number One” gesture.
Twenty years later, sitting — lucky me — in the front row again, my indelible memory of the Beijing Games will always be that magical last 100 metres when Usain Bolt looked left and right, spread his arms wide and thumped his chest for sheer joy.
After watching the United States destroy every opponent in the basketball tournament by an average of more than 30 points before the final on Sunday, there probably weren’t many people expecting Spain to have a chance against a “Redeem Team” determined to win back the gold medal after the debacle of the bronze in 2004.
But then Spain played a superb match and kept the Americans on the ropes all the way to the very end with one dazzling basket after another.
But perhaps a bit of African improvisation would not be such a bad thing.
Nigeria went on to reach the final of the tournament, beating old rivals the Ivory Coast and then thrashing Belgium 4-1 before coming unstuck against Argentina. Their semi-final performance against Belgium mixed moments of sublime skill with reckless defending and woeful, shoddy finishing. But the scoreline speaks for itself.
The former England captain has millions of fans in China. He will appear in the Bird’s Nest at the Olympics closing ceremony tonight, kicking a ball into the crowd from a red double-decker bus to symbolise the handover to London.
Kenya’s hope for an Olympic marathon medal were dealt a blow when Robert Cheruiyot pulled out due to injury and three-times London marathon winner Martin Lel’s training was affected by flu. But Sammy Wanjiru saved the day and brought the marathon gold medal, proof that distance running is Africa’s forte.
Simon Denyer blogged this week about the cheesy American rock music that has drowned out so many moments of quiet at these Games. What’s so wrong with the sound of silence, he asked?
Well, there are some sounds at the Games that have been worth hearing, especially if you’ve been lucky enough to get as close to the action as we have.