Giant on the move
The envelope, somewhat crumpled in the hands of a female admirer waiting excitedly in the Beijing airport arrivals hall, bore a simple message: “To Michael Phelps, you have to look at.”
Let’s face it, the chances of the American swimming celebrity ever looking at the contents were never going to be good.
But they became non-existent when the 23-year-old phenomenon slipped quietly into Beijing through the side door on Monday afternoon, sidestepping his admirers and the television cameras alike.
Maybe there were security considerations to the six times gold medallist being spirited away, maybe he just wanted to keep his focus as he bids to become the most successful Olympic athlete of all time.
Visitors arriving bleary-eyed and bad-tempered to China after gruelling long-distance flights are encountering a veritable people’s army of astonishingly polite and disciplined volunteers who attend to our every whim and need.
When I got off the plane after a jetlag-inducing flight from East Africa, I found myself shepherded, as in a dream, from post-to-post by an array of smiling students. ‘This way for your Olympic fast-track channel, sir … your accreditation … your bus … your room … your complimentary umbrella.’ Some were already fluent in English, others shyly practising newly-learned phrases, crushed if I didn’t understand first time.