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Phelps and Bolt stand out on Planet Olympia

Published on August 25, 2008

25 August 2008

BEIJING — American swimmer Michael Phelps and Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt rewrote the Olympic record books in Beijing where the games were detached from reality as never before.

Competition took place in a world of its own, a Planet Olympia, while host China’s communist government ruled outside as if Olympic values had never come to town.

There was nonetheless hope that China and the world had reached a better understanding of each other during the games which ran from Aug. 8-24 Games — with one of the lasting memories the hundreds of thousands of friendly and helpful Olympic volunteers.

"The world learned more about China, and China learned more about the rest of the world," said Olympic supremo Jacques Rogge.

A record haul
China penetrated the Olympic planet with a record haul of medals to dethrone the United States atop the final tally. But it also cried 1.3 billion tears when poster boy Liu Xiang limped out of the 110-meter hurdles.

China built no white elephants as gigantic state-of-the-art venues such as the Bird’s Nest and Water Cube were the stage for 11,249 athletes from 204 countries competing in 302 medal events.

The arenas are part of a lasting legacy for the world’s most populous nation after seeing 43 world records and hundreds of others.

Phelps, 23, was the king of the pool as he won eight gold medals with seven world record results, surpassing Mark Spitz’ seven golds at one games from 1972 and improving his overall golden tally to an Olympic record 14 — five more than anyone else in the games’ 112-year history.

While the world tried to find superlatives the American swimming wonder remained modest.

"I don’t know what makes me different — it beats me," he said. "I do what I love and I love to compete and to swim. I have very, very high goals that I have set for myself and that’s what really motivates me and keeps me going strong."

New milestones
But the records didn’t only tumble in the Water Cube but also at the Bird’s Nest located just opposite.

Bolt, 22, redefined the sprint when he won the 100-meters in 9.69 seconds, the 200-meters in 19.30 seconds and helped the 4×100 relay team to 37.10 seconds, a feat never achieved before the Beijing games.

"You have Einstein, you have Isaac Newton, you have Beethoven and you have Usain Bolt — it’s not explainable how and what they do," said Jamaican athletics coach Stephen Francis.

Bolt was joined as three-time gold medalist by British cyclist Chris Hoy, Australian swimmer Stephanie Rice and Chinese gymnast Zou Kai.

National glory
There was national glory galore as China became only the third nation other than the US and the Soviet Union to top the Olympic medal table, following Britain in 1908 and Germany 1936, both also hosts at the time.

The regular sweep of table tennis golds, seven of eight diving golds, multiple gymnastics success and first ever boxing golds allowed China to end the games with 51 gold medals, 21 silver and 28 bronze for a total 100 medals.

The US had more overall medals with 110 on a 36-38-36 breakdown, with Russia third on 23-21-28 (72) and Britain getting their best haul in a century with 19-13-15 (47) for fourth place in a first showing of what the team could at home in London 2012.

But there was more to the Games, most notably the hug and kiss between medal-winning shooters Natalia Paderina of Russia and Georgia’s Nino Salukvadze three days into the hostilities of their countries.

"I think this kind of sportsmanship and brotherhood is really remarkable," said Rogge.

The infamous kick
On the downside were the infamous kick of Cuban taekwondo fighter Angel Matos at the referee and six doping offences highlighted by Ukraine’s Lyudmila Blonska who was stripped of her heptathlon silver and faces a life ban as a second-time offender.

The IOC conducted a record 5,000 tests and 39 positive cases were recorded in the month before Olympic testing. Rogge spoke of a growing deterrent effect which also comes from new rules that Olympic doping offenders are barred from the next games.

But the IOC had not much to laugh about in its relationship with China as plenty of promises appeared to have been broken.

The IOC managed to intervene as far as Internet access for the media inside the Olympic bubble was concerned but outside, all 77 applications for protests were rejected and foreign media hindered in its coverage.

"The IOC and the Olympic Games cannot force changes on sovereign nations or solve all the ills of the world," said Rogge. "But we can — and we do — contribute to positive change through sport."

China spent billions of dollars in infrastructure, the venues and a remarkable Olympic village, but there were also the fakes at the opening ceremony — fake fireworks footage, a fake girl singer and fake ethnic groups.

Chinese propaganda left nothing to chance, something which marred the atmosphere as only ticket holders were allowed on to the Olympic Green and an Olympic party atmosphere in the city was not welcome.

That should change in London which, according to Olympians, should not try to match Beijing’s gigantism but look to its own assets.

"London will be the city of the country that has invented modern sport and has invented the rules of sport and has brought in the values of fair play," said Rogge.

The best news for the IOC, however, is that Britain is one of the oldest democracies in the world.

— John Bagratuni/Expatica