In a country with a population of over a billion and an even bigger desire to shine in the global spotlight, the Beijing Olympics were never going to be an understated affair. Taking full advantage of China’s lucky number, at 8.08pm on 08/08/08, the Games opened with a bang (from 2008 percussionists, to be precise), in an opening ceremony which can only be described as epic. Fifteen thousand musicians and performers told the history of the nation, from jaw-dropping firework displays and trapeze artists to flying spacemen and re-enactments, all choreographed to slightly terrifying perfection.
Unfortunately, the spectacular show came with talk of underhand dealings -- it emerged that a little girl had actually mimed her singing solo, with the real 7-year-old singer not deemed pretty enough for the public eye. The grandest firework display turned out to be computer generated, and rumours circulated of banned protests and new rules brought in to clean up the city’s image.
But on the track and in the pool, the action was indisputably awesome. China finished top of the medal charts, taking 51 golds to beat the US, and Great Britain landed fourth spot, with its highest medal haul in 100 years. American swimmer Michael Phelps stood out, winning a record-breaking eight golds, while Usain Bolt blistered onto the scene with his unforgettable 100 and 200m victories. His signature “to di world” victory pose would be one of the Games’ enduring images.
The centrepiece of the Games was the distinctive National Stadium, more commonly known as the Bird’s Nest. It’s now used for the occasional concert and football match, and even filled with artificial snow to create a winter theme park. You can now see the groundbreaking design for yourself for £5 (CNY50), or visit the Water Cube (the National Aquatics Centre) for £3 (CNY30). It’s £5 (CNY50) to go for a swim, or £20 (CNY200) to use the vast waterpark.
Four years ago the Olympics came to a close with a handover to our very own capital city, leaving us to wonder how London could follow in Beijing’s rather spectacular footsteps. But judging from the red bus we saw pull up in Beijing, accompanied by a cast of David Beckham, Jimmy Page and Boris Johnson, it looks like the 2012 Olympic Games are going to be held in a rather more quirky, and distinctly British style. Over to you, London...