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The Race Just Started
S.L. Price
September 06, 2004
Running ahead of schedule, China made a move on the Olympic powers in Athens. As host in 2008, it expects to dominate
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September 06, 2004

The Race Just Started

Running ahead of schedule, China made a move on the Olympic powers in Athens. As host in 2008, it expects to dominate

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He's far from alone. "This is the tip of the iceberg," says Mark Wetmore, an agent who represents China's track and field athletes internationally. During Liu's medal ceremony, Wetmore turned to those sitting around him in Olympic Stadium and said, "Better learn this national anthem. You're going to hear it a lot in 2008."

It will be a different Olympics, of course. One virtue of dictatorships is that Olympic venues--if not the trains--arrive on time, and it's already clear that the delays that marred Athens's preparations won't be repeated in Beijing. All venues are set to be completed by 2007, and there'll be none of that Greek hand-wringing over cost, either; at the reception held by Beijing officials on Saturday night, the director of China's tourist bureau announced that about $62 billion would be spent on facilities, environmental protection and civic upgrades for the Games. No one gasped. The authorities will face hard questions about human rights over the next four years, but their strategy is already obvious.

"We hope to concentrate mainly on sports performance rather than human rights," Xiao said in response to a reporter's question. "I'm sorry to tell you the understanding of human rights differs as far as nationalities, history, culture and religions [are concerned], and maybe conflict will arise in discussion of this topic. I'm sorry I cannot elaborate further."

The reception was no place for that discussion, in any event. The cool air was filled with polite speeches, deflected questions, applause for every ringing phrase. Chinese lanterns hung over the lights at the old Athens Tennis Club, and a video showed gorgeous footage of pandas and temples and one happy Chinese citizen after another. Under the trees, in the front row, Athens mayor Dora Bakoyannis, who as much as anyone embodied the city's resilient spirit, sat next to Liu Xiang. Her Games were nearly over. The hurdler's Nikes were untied. Around him, men chattered into cellphones and passed out business cards, but Liu stared rapt at the video screen. Then he went onstage to help unveil the Beijing Olympics' tourism logo.

Reading from a crumpled piece of paper, Liu spoke of his joy and luck in Athens, then switched to English and shouted, "Welcome to China! Welcome to Beijing!" The performance was complete. He smiled, and the future looked brighter than ever. ?

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