BEIJING Forget the skimpily clad cheerleaders. The immaculate hostesses handing out medals at the Olympics have won the spectator vote for glamour.
Wearing Chinese silk dresses with their hair pulled back tightly into neat buns, the hostesses are beautiful, elegant and their eyes are three-tenths the length of their faces, as required by the Chinese selection committee.
"They are so pretty and precise. They smile continuously," said Debra Sinex, a tourist from Atlanta, Georgia, in Beijing for the Olympics.
At every medal ceremony six or more hostesses are on duty.
Two wearing "cheongsam", or long dresses, stand either side of the podium while three or more in knee-length dresses hold platters bearing the medals and bouquets of nine red roses, with red a lucky color in China and nine meaning everlasting.
But although the role looks simple, in line with China's bid to host the perfect Games, these hostesses have been meticulously chosen and trained.
When Olympic organizers started a search for the hostesses they issued a list of requirements for appearance and body shape that was published by Chinese media, raising eyebrows in the West because of the sexist and stereotype overtones.
Many were also upset by China's decision to have a pretty little girl lip-synching a song at the opening ceremony just because the real singer had crooked teeth.
Hostess candidates have to be university educated, aged 18 to 24, between 1.68 and 1.78 meters in height (5 ft 5 ins and 5 ft 8 ins), with a "ruddy and shiny complexion", "elastic skin" and "a plump but not fat body".
Their faces needed to meet standards including the ratio between the "width of the nose and the length of the face" and "width of the mouth and width between the pupils", with eyes three-tenths the length of the face.
From about 5,000 applications, 297 candidates were chosen from a dozen Beijing colleges and 40 students from Shanghai to be "Olympic victory ceremony volunteers".
Five series of costumes were designed for the hostesses to wear at the 302 Olympic and 471 Paralympic medal ceremonies, each for different sports and featuring traditional Chinese images such as blue-and-white porcelain, embroidery and jade.
The women have been through thorough training at a kind of charm boot camp, learning to stand for hours in high-heels and honing the perfect smile exposing eight teeth by spending hours before a mirror with a chopstick between their teeth.
"In the standing sessions, we have to stand still and smile for half an hour or more. We also run about a 1,000 meters every day for physical conditioning," one of the hostesses, Ma Sha, 20, told Reuters ahead of the Games.
(Additional reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Editing by Nick Macfie)