The Closing Ceremonies in Athens - Preview of Beijing 2008

The next host city traditionally has the opportunity to present itself and its country at the closing ceremonies of the Olympic Games. Chinese news anchors were naturally very taken by the Athenian closing ceremonies in 2004, especially by the eight-minute presentation, developed by Chinese director Zhang Yimou ("Raise the Red Lantern," "Shanghai Triad," "The Way Home," "Hero," "House of Flying Daggers"), of Beijing as 2008's upcoming host.

In Chinese Internet chatrooms, reactions ranged from "outstanding and proud" to "kitschy." The Chinese girl who sang the well-known Chinese folk song "Jasmine" and jumped back affrighted at the grand finale, a confetti cannon's blast, aroused pity in the Internet community. Contentment ruled the day due to the successes of China's athletes, and not least because of a new star's discovery: dark horse winner of the 100 m hurdles, Liu Xiang. The dress rehearsal for Beijing 2008 might be considered blessed in the Chinese worldview.

However, a few weeks after Athens heralded the arrival of the first bad news. After lavish expenditures early on, further investments in the 2008 Olympics are to be reduced and some projects slashed, for example the Olympic Stadium and swimming facilities. Exploding costs in Athens, notably for security, prompted planners of Beijing's Olympic projects to be more cautious.

The motto "green Olympics" also seems to be endangered. The campaign for blue skies in Beijing is now perceived as a failure; the image of Beijing's citizenry going about in respirators will certainly number among the lasting memories of that city. Human rights is another topic that will no doubt return to the world's awareness prior to the 2008 Games.

State of construction projects for 2008

After his visit to Beijing, IOC president Jacques Rogge could happily report that Beijing is well ahead of schedule. Last-minute completion will definitely not be a problem in Beijing; rather, one can expect a perfectly organized Olympics-the ultramodern athletic facilities, modern communication and transportation-Beijing will doubtless present its best and most up-to-date side. All that's left for us to hope is that the flair of "old China" (the Beijing alleys, or hutongs, for example) doesn't get buried by modernity.

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