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Page last updated at 23:18 GMT, Sunday, 6 July 2008 00:18 UK

Is China ready for the Olympics?

Visitors to the Olympic Forest Park take in a view from north looking south toward the National Stadium in Beijing on 3 July
Beijing is proud that it has had none of the construction problems of Athens 2004

By Michael Bristow
BBC News, Beijing

In the swish surroundings of the former US embassy in Beijing, the medals for this summer's Olympic Games were recently unveiled.

It was the final stage of a process that had seen gold, silver and bronze brought to China from mines in Australia and Chile.

The preparations for other aspects of the games also appear to be on track - organising officials say they are confident that everything is in place.

But while venues and transport facilities seem ready, there are doubts about some other Olympic plans - not least as regards Beijing's poor air quality.

'Absolutely confident'

Jiang Xiaoyu, a senior official with Beijing's Olympic organising committee, was at the former embassy complex for the medal ceremony.

Cheerleaders strike a pose during a training session for cheer squads on July 4
There is great excitement ahead of the opening of the Games on 8 August

"We are fully prepared for the opening of the Olympic Games. All preparations are in place," he said after posing for pictures with the medals.

Mr Jiang said the last few weeks would be spent on the final details; perfecting the command and control system and training venue staff.

The International Olympic Committee, which awarded Beijing this year's summer games in 2001, seems equally pleased with preparations at this stage.

Giselle Davies, the IOC's communications director, said: "We are absolutely confident that everything that needs to be in place will be."

That is no small feat. At the Athens Olympics four year ago, there were constant worries that competition venues would not be finished on time.

Spruced up

Beijing has experienced no such problems - and is proud of that fact.

A Chinese woman cycles past a new wall erected to hide shabby housing
In some places high walls have been built to hide Beijing's shabbier districts
All 31 competition venues in the city - 12 of which have been built specially for this event - are finished. Some were ready months ago.

The main 91,000-seater arena, known as the Bird's Nest because of its unusual design, was declared ready last month.

When it won the right to host the Olympics, Beijing also embarked on an ambitious plan to improve the city's transport network.

It has built subway lines, introduced new buses and taxis, and earlier this year opened a stunning new airport terminal.

City streets have been spruced up in order to give the best impression - in some places high walls have been built to hide Beijing's shabbier districts.

And officials appear to have attempted to bring more order to the city's often chaotic streets - particularly in older and poorer areas.

Some street vendors have disappeared, and many migrant workers are being told to leave the city because they do not have permission to stay.

Tips on behaviour

About 8,000 workers will be responsible for keeping Beijing's notoriously smelly public toilets clean and well stocked with soap and paper.

On any given day, should there by an air quality problem, events could be re-scheduled
Giselle Davies
IOC spokeswoman
Foreign athletes, dignitaries and spectators will see a much smarter, cleaner Beijing when they arrive for the start of the games on 8 August.

Beijing officials have also been working hard to prepare the public for what is probably the biggest international event ever held in China.

Slogans, posters and information sheets have been put up across the city, telling people how to behave.

There have been numerous campaigns to get rid of habits foreign visitors might find unsavoury - spitting being the most obvious example.

Many people, including central Beijing resident Wang Kuiying, agree with the campaigns.

"We need to be civilised, welcome the Olympics and develop a good attitude. Everyone is clear about this," said the 70-year-old.

Pollution fears

Ensuring security is another major concern; tens of thousands of soldiers, police and volunteers - ordinary people - will be patrolling the streets in August.

But not everything appears to have gone according to plan - for much of the past few weeks Beijing has been enveloped in smog.

The city was due to spend more than $12bn (6bn; 7.7bn euros) cleaning up the environment before the games, and some of that was to go on improving air quality.

But Mike Tancred, media director for the Australian Olympic Committee, said his country's athletes were worried about Beijing's air pollution.

"I know the Chinese authorities are doing their best to take cars off the roads and close factories, but it's still a problem," he said.

The IOC believes most athletes will be unaffected by the pollution, but those taking part in endurance events lasting more than one hour could be at risk.

"On any given day, should there by an air quality problem, events could be re-scheduled," admitted the IOC's Giselle Davies.

If that happens, the city's smog, and not the otherwise good preparations, could be the abiding memory of the Beijing Olympic Games.



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