x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Beijing had the days of its life

Year review China put on a show that will never be forgotten for both the spectacle and the memorable performances from the competitors.

The Beijing Olympics will be a tough act to follow.
The Beijing Olympics will be a tough act to follow.

China has a passion for performance and precision. It projects an intensity of labour that other nations find difficult to mimic, or comprehend. In taking a simplistic, sporting overview of China's hosting of the Olympic Games during what was an august August, one can only conclude that this period drama will be forever protected by time and technicolour. A country containing over one billion people fulfilled an obligation to provide enchantment over 16 thought-provoking days.

The Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt and his three world records, and the eight gold medals the American Michael Phelps fished out of the swimming pool, continue to shimmer some three months on. Like Jesse Owens defying Adolf Hitler in Berlin in 1936 with his four golds or Mark Spitz paddling his way towards seven golds in Munich in 1972, the robustness of these two men cut vivid images. It has been argued that China's policy in areas such as human rights overshadowed the healthiness of the Games, but this is not the appropriate forum in which to discuss the rights or wrongs of a country, or a government's moral compass.

An air quality that threatened the viability of the Games dissipated. When the smog cleared, the mature representations that China made to the world were of a gold standard. This esteemed event answered several questions, but the extravagant nature of the infrastructure that bonded these Olympics, second only to football's World Cup in popularity, prompted a more poignant one: did London win the booby prize when the Olympic movement discarded Paris in 2005 to award the Games to Britain's capital in 2012?

There should be a worry that the mayor of London Boris Johnson left the closing ceremony like Dick Whittington on his way to the city, and the British capital will resemble paupers in comparison to the rich and rip-roaring manner in which China expressed itself. China threw an estimated US$40 billion (Dh147m) at the Games. London will spend no more than half of that figure. An impending recession leaves London in the wrong place at the wrong time, having to find enough reserves to give their edition of the Games a unique selling point.

London, encouraged by Sebastian Coe and David Beckham, won the right to host the Games on its appeal of what it can do for the youth of tomorrow. China has left its own legacy. The Chinese philosopher Xun Zi once said that "pride and excess bring disaster for man". His musings would have perhaps differed if he had witnessed the bash in Beijing. This was a cultural and sporting revolution. This gathering had pride, excess and largesse. It was all done to some effect, with or without the fireworks.

There seems to be nowhere for the Olympics to go but down after such a startling rendition. Future hosts will find themselves in a tailspin in trying to replicate China. In a capitalist world, a country steeped in communism produced an event that was straight out of the free market. China continue to dip into the past and present to suit its own needs. The Olympics suggest it is a country of capitalist communists. They showed the west how it should be done, shrugging off some of their state-owned stereotypes.

Like getting caught in the tailwind of Bolt or in the slipstream of Phelps, attempting to overtake what Beijing achieved appears to be a futile gesture. The great haul of China, as it has been proclaimed by some, saw the host nation frost itself with medals, and updated stadia. The main arena was The Bird's Nest, an amphitheater as dramatic as Ridley Scott's vision of the colosseum in the movie Gladiator. It was ripe for athletics. It found room to house around 90,000 spectators.

Millions felt their elation when they won, a deluge of despair in defeat. Liu Xiang's injury before the 110m hurdles seemed to instigate a period of national mourning, but the wallowing was drowned out by the revellers. China's success was the first time the leading nation had clasped over 50 golds, 51 they rested on, since the old USSR reached 55 back in 1988. London is not quite waving the flag, but the Union Flag looks tatty in comparison to the rosy red vibe that tumbled through China. London 2012 could be a poor relation to Beijing 2008, similar to what Athens 2004 was to Sydney 2000.

The tale of the track was breathtaking. Before he won the 100m at the Barcelona Olympics of 1992, the British sprinter Linford Christie said that he sprung out of his starting blocks in hearing the "b" of the bang of the starting pistol. Bolt seemed like a speeding bullet before the starter even put his finger on the trigger. The Jamaican was so far ahead in slowing down, he looked as if he had enough time to take a picture of his foes finishing.

There was a lot of preening before he got off. A fan of Bob Marley and reggae music, his posturing was questioned by Jacque Rogge, the Olympic president, who felt he exuded an air of disrespect. Bolt defended his stance, saying he should not be known as "Flash Gordon" but simply "Lightning Bolt". You are allowed to be cocky when you are so good. Bolt took down the 100m in a world record time of 9.69 seconds. He sped to the 200m in 19.30sec. He enjoyed a third gold and a third world record in the 4x100m relay.

His next project could be an attempt on Michael Johnson's record in the 400m. The towering Phelps was like a marlin in the aquatic centre. He picked up golds almost at will. The world appears to be his, and all that is in it. In other noteworthy interludes, there was the barmy sight of a nine-year-old miming Ode to the Motherland at the opening ceremony and the Cuban Angel Matos kicking a referee in taekwondo.

More than 10,000 athletes competed in over 300 events in around 28 sports, but these Olympics will be recalled for its three leading characters. It was about the days of China, Bolt and Phelps. It was the days of their lives. dkane@thenational.ae