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Last Updated: Monday, 30 August, 2004, 13:24 GMT 14:24 UK
China on the march
By Phil Gordos
BBC Sport in Athens

Beijing will host the 2008 Olympic Games

China celebrated their best-ever Olympic medal haul in Athens, finishing the Games in second place behind the might of the United States.

But with home backing in Beijing, there is every chance the People's Republic will be top of the pile in 2008.

China are fast becoming the nation everyone has to fear.

Traditionally strong in events like badminton, diving, shooting and table tennis, they are now getting golds elsewhere.

In Greece, 110m hurdler Xiang Liu became the first Chinese male to win a track gold while tennis players Ting Li and Tian Tian Sun stormed to a shock win in the women's doubles.

There were also golds for Xujuan Luo in the women's 100m breaststroke and canoeists Guanliang Meng and Wenjun Yang in the men's C2 500m.

But if the Chinese are proving pretty speedy on the track and in the pool, take a look at the rate at which they are preparing for 2008.

CHINA'S MEDAL HAULS
1984: 15g, 8s, 9b
1988: 5g, 11s, 12b
1992: 16g, 22s, 16b
1996: 16g, 22s, 12b
2000: 28g, 16s, 15b
2004: 32g, 17s, 14b

They are so far ahead of schedule that International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge took the unprecedented step of urging organisers to slow down construction work in Beijing.

His fear was that it would prove too costly to maintain the stadiums if they were completed 20 months in advance of the Games.

Rogge was also worried that the venues would stand idle for long periods.

But at least Beijing is unlikely to be dogged by the same problems that beset Athens, when there were genuine concerns the Greek capital would not be ready to host the 28th Olympiad.

The major problem the Chinese government will have to face over the next four years is the endless questioning and examination of their human rights record.

But Chen Ping, a member of Beijing's media and communications department, insists the country is prepared for the intense media spotlight.

"I think we are ready and we want international journalists to come to Beijing to see what life is like," he told the BBC Sport website.

"We want them to speak to people so they can see for themselves how excited everyone is."

Beijing was selected as the host city for the Games on 13 July, 2001.

Since then, the Beijing Organising Committee - or Bocog for short - has been working overtime.

New roads and subways have and are being built, while a third terminal is currently under construction at the Beijing Capital International Airport.

Special 'villages' will also be erected for the athletes and media, and organisers have already ensured there will be enough hotel rooms for the thousands of visitors.

As for the venues, a total of 35 will be used, of which 30 will be situated in the city.

BEIJING FACTFILE
Population 14.56m - life expectancy 79.62 years
Officials hope 1m people in Beijing will be able to speak English by 2008
Phrasebooks containing 100 questions in Chinese will be produced for foreign visitors
Heritage sites include the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, Great Wall, Summer Palace and Ming Tombs

The sailing competition will take place in the port of Qingdao while Tianjin, Shanghai, Shenyang and Qinghuangdao will host the football preliminaries.

Of the 30 venues in Beijing, 15 will be new, 11 already exist while the remaining four will be temporary.

And there should be enough people to fill them, unlike in Athens, where several sports failed to attract capacity crowds.

Most Athenians left when the Olympic circus rolled into town, but Ping is confident the same thing will not happen in 2008.

The Games take place between August 8 and 24 and Ping said: "The people of Beijing are very enthusiastic. They know life will be harder because of all the guests but they will not be leaving."

Bocog hopes everything will be ready by the end of 2007, giving them enough time to host test events at most of the venues and iron out any infrastructure problems.

After the Athens debacle, that will be music to the ears of the IOC.





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