Giant on the move
Beijing weather was one of the biggest stories in the run-up to the Games, and rightly so judging by the struggles of the cyclists in the men’s road race on Saturday. More than a third of contestants dropped out of the race, including one of the favourites Stefan Schumacher, who complained of a “very, very strong headache” he blamed on the pollution.
It got me wondering — why are the Games being held in August, just about the muggiest and smoggiest time of the year in the Chinese capital? What is wrong with September, or April come to that? It would not only have been cooler, but skies in Beijing are clearer too.
And it is not just about China. Marathon runners struggled and staggered with the effects of heat and pollution in Los Angeles in 1984, and there have problems with heat and air quality in most of the Summer Olympics ever since.
Looking at the history books, holding the Summer Games in the Spring or the Autumn is not such a heretical thought.
I’ve been a China watcher for much longer than I’ve been a journalist — Chinese language, literature, history and politics were my passions and the objects of my academic study before I ever found my vocation. And for a watcher of modern Chinese politics, few texts in my 30 years in the field have been as important as the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party.
With a circulation of three to four million, it is one of the world’s biggest papers; with its direct ties to the top Party leaders, it has long been the way official policy shifts have been announced or hinted at.
Michael Phelps smashed his own world record in the 400m individual medley to set off on what could be a record-breaking gold medal trail on day two of real action at the 2008 Olympics.
That was early in the morning and it took until late at night before we had a story that even came close to matching it, with the United States overcoming a slightly unconvincing start to beat China by an emphatic 101-70.
China might once have been known as the ‘bicycle kingdom’, but if the scene along the women’s road race today is anything to go by, I wouldn’t hold my breath that the Olympics will inspire many Chinese people to become fans of competitive cycling.
A sizeable crowd gathered along an intersection near the historic Lama Temple in the centre of town to watch the racers go by this afternoon — some spectators who came specifically for the event, others passersby who were forced by the roadblock to wait and watch, many of them on bicycles themselves.
“It’s for good luck, but we can’t talk about it — it’s a secret,” said Igor Hinic after an 11-7 victory over Italy. ”If I tell you, it will ruin it. Maybe it’s working — it worked today — but it’s too early to tell.”
I’m joined today by Mitch Phillips, Karolos Grohmann and swimming expert Julian Linden to talk about the blockbusting start to the swimming from Michael Phelps, the relegation of athletics to second class status this week and all that’s been happening in the IOC corridors of power.
But how bad is the Beijing air really? Is it miserable beyond endurance for athletes busting their lungs to deliver peak performance? Or are the smog stories a smokescreen, part of the exaggeration attendant on any Olympic Games?
Roll on 12 years and you could argue beach volleyball is the perfect modern Olympic sport.
Greek sprinter Katerina Thanou has been barred from competing at the Beijing Olympics over her involvement in the doping scandal that overshadowed the Athens Games.
Thanou came back from her two-year ban to qualify for these Games but she still needed permission from the IOC to compete and that has been emphatically denied.
Slogans, or kouhao, often sit better in the Chinese language where they are made up of fewer characters than the more cumbersome English translations.