The greatest show on earth is now well underway. Even before the spectacular opening ceremony, London 2012 chiefs were said to be stunned by the scale of the Beijing Olympics. Paul Deighton, chief executive of the London Olympic Committee said ‘The Beijing games could end up being unique - I’m not sure how many other countries would have these resources’. A refreshingly honest admission, as London 2012 organisers prepare for four years of lowering our expectations. The games have continued as they opened with high quality sport, in excellent venues and massive international viewing figures. Four billion are said to have watched the opening ceremony and over one billion watched the USA beat China at basketball.
The opening ceremony in Beijing
The four US cyclists who chose to wear face masks on arrival at Beijing airport to protect themselves from the danger of smog, managed to insult the Chinese and make themselves look pathetic. But it is hardly surprising that a few risk-averse athletes behaved like this, when the media is in overdrive warning of the dangers of smog. In the UK the BBC smogwatch has been relentless. If the BBC is serious, it needs to explain why its unofficial daily particulate recordings are more scientifically valid than the hourly recordings at the official monitoring centre. And also what their problem is with the official monitoring centre? And anyway how serious is a bit of smog anyway? As Steve Cram noted on the BBC, smog may give you ‘a bit of a sore throat’, but the real worry for athletes is heat and humidity. The truth is that the heavy rain on Sunday will have done much more to help alleviate these problems than the collective hectoring of the press.
The first week in Beijing is largely centred around the swimming events in the stunning Water Cube. Swimming is not really my cup of tea, but how refreshing to have the no-nonsense former Olympian Steve Parry reporting from the pool. His passion for his sport, and single-minded interest in the GB team winning medals are to be commended. Parry explained to us how Chinese swimmer had dedicated his life to the mens’ 400-metres freestyle, a race of just three minutes and forty seconds – a reminder of the commitment, as well as the effort and skill, that goes into making an Olympian.
The constant carping and criticism of China in the run up to the Beijing Games has made enjoyment of the sport something of a guilty pleasure. During this month we should be celebrating the high points of human physical achievement that are taking place in Beijing. It is time to knock the critics off their lofty perch. If some people cannot appreciate what British road race cyclist Nicole Cooke has put into winning her gold medal in a tough endurance event, then so be it, but the rest of us can take inspiration from her efforts, whatever walk of life we happen to be in.
Read On: part two