The Games in review
Trip Start Jan 30, 2007
632Trip End Dec 31, 2011
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Was it a genuine success or something of a facade?
Beijing gloss fades after going through the wringer
By JACQUELIN MAGNAY - SMH
The Beijing Olympic Games will go down in history as the Games Made In China. Beautiful to look at but put it through a couple of washes and the shiny, glossy facade is stripped away.
Or like a new toy, it works well for a month and then it cracks.
These were the Coming Out Games for a prospective world power that was supposed to open up to the rest of the world. But these Games were more about spikes and poles and goggles. China was exposed to international scrutiny of its social interactions at levels that upset the ruling Communist Party.
There was no more stark illustration of this than the opening ceremony, when a seven-year-old Chinese girl singing an Ode To The Motherland was replaced at the last minute by another singer, cute as a baby panda, but lip-synching the words - changed at the behest of a senior politburo member. China was trying so hard to be absolutely perfect. Officials couldn't understand why the focus was on one small late change to their program, rather than the multimillion-dollar, technically superb spectacle.
Throughout all of August, the organisers were battling a Western media that was not focusing on the sport, but rather the country's political regime, its human rights record, oppression of protesters, restrictions on reporting, brutality of photographers. And the International Olympic Committee just stood passively at the side, having lost early control of these Games.
From its initial enthusiasm of giving the Games to China to become an instrument of great social change, the IOC was forced to the sidelines and became a bit-part player, even initially parroting the Beijing line that the Olympics were not about politics.
There were some paradoxes. These were the sell-out Games, yet many venues had thousands of empty seats; these were the green Games, held in a shroud of smog.
Time will tell if these Games are remembered more for the sight of two frail women sentenced to 12 months hard labour for disturbing the peace and being refused permission to protest in one of the three specially designated areas; and China's pretence of giving its citizens a voice.
Or maybe the sight of Usain Bolt's signature reggae dancing down the back straight of the Bird's Nest or the sight of Michael Phelps's massive spreadeagled arms are the most lasting impressions. Or will it be Li Ning's sensational lap of honour around the top of the stadium before he lit the flame?
Certainly China put on a sporting extravaganza that was unparalleled for its organisation. The buses ran on time, the technology worked most of the time and, importantly, the sporting moments were particularly memorable. Phelps's eight gold medals and his phenomenal world record haul; Bolt's showy, electrifying speed; Sally McLellan's shock; Anna Meares's and Elise Rechichi's bravery; Australia's gay diver Matt Mitcham beating the Chinese hosts; Steve Hooker's electrifying gold, the first for an Australian field athlete in 40 years.
There is the heartache and the tears, too. Liu Xiang's withdrawal before the first hurdle sent the hosts into a nationwide depression. The furore surrounding their gymnasts, some accused of being under-age - just 14 - tarnished a carefully cultivated image.
Between East and West they were the parallel games: China dominated gymnastics, weightlifting, diving. The US dominated volleyball, track and field, swimming and shooting.
Australia, with 14 gold , 15 silver and 17 bronze medals, was most prominent in the pool, in sailing and rowing.
Some countries won their first gold medals - Panama, Bahrain, Mongolia - while Afghanistan, Mauritius, Togo and Tajikistan won their first Olympic medals. India won its first individual gold.
Heavy pollution was a concern early on, but halving the number of cars on the road and permanently closing polluting factories helped clear the air.
The IOC president, Jacques Rogge, said the Beijing Games had left the IOC in a strong financial position, and the Olympic broadcast went to more people in more places than before.
Rogge believes the lasting legacy of the Games will be the dreams fulfilled and a source of inspiration for a generation of young Chinese people.
"Some of the friendly volunteers we have met over the past two weeks will be tomorrow's leaders," he said. "They have emerged from this experience with new confidence and a better understanding of Olympic values. That may ultimately be the greatest legacy of these Games."