The Olympic Ideal
By WU WEI
THE Olympics is a worldwide event, in which China is a devoted participant – the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games certainly proved that. As the Games' most recent host, the Chinese people are naturally paying close attention to the Olympic extravaganza as it rolls into London.
My foreign friends, including some British, often tell me how they marveled at the Beijing Olympic Games and its spectacular opening ceremony, excellent performances by Chinese athletes and impeccably run Olympic services. They say the event really had the effect of spurring them to learn more about China. This is high praise, especially when considering that unlike countries such as Britain and the United States, which have hosted more than one Olympic Games, China was a novice. Our success was thanks to our determination, devotion to the Olympic ideal and the participation of the whole nation.
This commitment and involvement are attested by endeavors taken before and during the sporting gala, such as moving manufacturing facilities of steel giant Shougang out of Beijing to cut pollution and introducing a rotating no-drive day program based on plate numbers to improve traffic. Both Chinese corporations and the country's citizens were glad to make some sacrifices to put on their best face for the world's athletes, whose gathering carries significance far beyond the courts and fields of the host country.
Now, the world turns its eyes to London. The British capital has hosted the Olympics twice before, in 1908 and 1948. People there tend to reminisce more about the first one, the Fourth Olympic Games, in 1908.
The Games in 1908 were originally supposed to be held in Rome, but due to construction delays there they were moved to London at short notice. The Games lasted a full six months – from April 27 to October 29, becoming the longest Olympics in history. Twenty-two countries on five continents participated in the Games, and over 2,000 athletes competed – more than the total number of the athletes at the previous three Olympics combined.
Many modern day Olympic rules and practices were first introduced in the 1908 Games, such as the practice of athletes wearing country uniforms, the athletes' entering an arena on the opening day under their countries' national flags, and rules about medals and standards for qualification.
Britain pocketed 56 gold medals and topped the list, well ahead of the United States, which managed 23. But more importantly, Pierre De Coubertin, founder of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), endorsed the phrase: "The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part," which became the official Olympic creed. The fourth Olympics were a watershed in Olympic history.
The embodiment of this creed at the 1908 Olympics was one gutsy performance by an underdog. In the marathon race, Dorando Pietri, an Italian runner, was in first place, but collapsed with exhaustion after taking a wrong turn into the stadium with two kilometers left to run. He was helped by referees to reach the final line, still in first place, but was later disqualified. Nevertheless, his tenacious spirit deeply moved spectators, and Queen Alexandra awarded Pietri a gilded silver cup as a consolation prize.
China is a latecomer to the Olympic Games, and the first Chinese athlete didn't participate until 1932. From that point on, Chinese athletes improved and improved. Their ascendancy in international sport reached its zenith at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, when China topped the gold medal tally for the first time.
In 2008, the Chinese people personally experienced the Olympic creed – volunteers helped made the Games what they were. We were just proud to be a part of the Olympic legacy.
Had it not been for the Beijing Olympics, the Chinese people may have gone on with a weak understanding of the glory of this international event, which combines sport and friendship. Before 2008, for most Chinese the Olympics seemed intangible, untouchable and irrelevant. Of course, they cheered for the victories of their country's athletes and lamented their failures, but often tens of thousands miles away from the contest venues. For them, it was a completely new experience to be on home soil watching the action, all the while sitting in a Chinese-built stadium, like the spectacular Bird's Nest or the Water Cube. In the fields, tracks and swimming pools of Beijing, the Chinese people came into real and tangible contact with the Olympics in 2008. They saw and they touched. The experience afforded the Chinese people a new outlook on the Olympics that is set to stay with them for many years.
This year, the Olympic Games will be held in London. Despite the geographic and time distance between the British capital and China, residents here have shown a strong interest in the 2012 Games.
Many overseas Chinese students have registered as volunteers for the London Games and China will send a strong contingent of sportsmen, many of whom are at the top of their disciplines.
What's also noteworthy is that among the 15 designers and artists commissioned to work for the Games by the London Organizing Committee in February, Chinese painter Liu Tiefei is the only non-British artist. His 2008 painting Salute to Eric Henry Liddell drew the attention of the London Organizing Committee, and Liu was commissioned to create a large-scale painting, Dream Back to England. The work commemorates Eric Henry Liddell, champion of the men's 400 meters at the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris. Liddell was born in China's Tianjin, and worked in China for many years before being incarcerated in a Japanese concentration camp in Weifang during World War II, where he died. Neither the Chinese nor the British people have forgotten him, and Liddell's spirit has inspired his successors to carry forward the Olympic dream.
WU WEI is Party secretary and deputy general manager of the China National Publications Import and Export (Group) Corporation.
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