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Sports News

China basks in the glow of success of Games

BEIJING (Reuters) - The Beijing Summer Olympics closed on Sunday, basking in the warm glow of China’s undoubted success in staging a supreme sporting spectacle which will be remembered as one of the Great Games.

Performers take part in the closing ceremony of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games at the National Stadium August 24, 2008, after the Olympic flame was extinguished. REUTERS/Phil Noble

China wanted to demonstrate to its own citizens and to the world it could put on a magnificent show and the mission was amply accomplished in 17 days of captivating action in which the spotlight stayed firmly on sport.

A sumptuous and spectacular opening ceremony on Aug. 8, peerless in its grandeur, announced Beijing’s intentions and what followed permitted little scope for disappointment.

The futuristic stadiums, notably the deceptively massive Bird’s Nest where the athletics, soccer final and opening and closing ceremonies were held, offered the perfect stage for the cream of the world’s athletes to perform.

Every stage needs its leading actor and up stepped Usain Bolt and his merry band of Jamaican sprinters to steal the show.

Three gold medals and three world records in the 100 and 200 metres and 4x100 metres relay provided a unique haul for the dashing sprinter whose name lent itself so neatly to lightning references.

The equally innovative Water Cube indoor aquatic centre also became emblematic of the Beijing Games and another focal point for extravagant sporting achievement.

American swimmer Michael Phelps seemed bent on tearing up every Olympic record as he made the Water Cube his own, winning eight gold medals to eclipse Mark Spitz’s 36-year-old record of seven golds at one Games.

SPORTING SUPERPOWER

Along with state-of-the-art stadiums and unique sporting endeavour, the Games also marked China’s emergence as the superpower of world sport.

China, which entered the Olympics only 24 years ago in Los Angeles, had shown it was ready to mount the top of the podium when it finished second in the medals table in Athens in 2004, with 32 golds to 36 for the Americans.

But the Chinese exceeded all expectations by netting as many as 51 gold medals as hosts, the first country to break the half-century for 20 years, leaving the United States well in its wake on 36.

On the minus side, hopes that Chinese medals sweeps would be matched by sweeping changes in openness for the media and freedom of expression were dashed.

Attempts at peaceful protests were routinely stifled by the authorities and, despite guarantees to the contrary, the media found they were not always able to film, report and photograph everything they wished.

International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge described the Games organisation as “impeccable”. “The IOC and the Olympic Games cannot force changes on sovereign states or solve all the ills of the world.” he said.

Tight security restrictions both on entering the country and in getting anywhere near the Olympic Green area housing most of the main stadiums prevented any disturbances of the peace but also had an unfortunate side-effect.

Many foreign visitors were deterred from coming and locals without tickets were largely unable to join the party, leaving the atmosphere in the stadiums and Olympic areas notably less passionate than at the past two Games in Sydney and Athens.

If the number of doping cases dropped considerably -- six athletes so far found positive, compared with 26 in Athens -- the competition was not always conducted in the true Olympic spirit.

One Swedish weightlifter was stripped of his bronze medal for walking off in protest at the judging and throwing down his medal at the awards ceremony. A Cuban was banned for life from taekwondo for deliberately kicking a referee in the head.

Fortunately, the Chinese population did embrace the Games warmly. Visitors and competitors alike could hardly fail to be impressed by the smiling faces, eagerness to help and enthusiasm shown by the hosts.

It was a unique contribution to Beijing’s Great Games.

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