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Around The World Every country will view the Athens Games from a different perspective. Some will watch to see if their national hero triumphs; others will obsess over the medal count; others will look on with pride simply because they're taking part; and

Aug. 02, 2004
Aug. 02, 2004

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Aug. 2, 2004

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Around The World Every country will view the Athens Games from a different perspective. Some will watch to see if their national hero triumphs; others will obsess over the medal count; others will look on with pride simply because they're taking part; and

TAKING THE LONG VIEW
For a billion-plus people, Athens is just a prelude to the real
Games, four years hence in Beijing, where the host nation will
put on quite a show

This is an article from the Aug. 2, 2004 issue

Scooping a pork-and-leek dumpling out of his wok, Lin Qinjian
pauses to consider the question. "No, I don't know where Athens
is," he says, before hazarding a guess. "Is it one of those
little countries in Africa?" The Beijing dumpling vendor, though,
knows exactly what will happen in his native city in 2008. "The
Olympics, of course," Lin says, clicking his tongue with
exasperation at such an obvious question. "Everyone knows that."
Athens may be the birthplace of the Olympics and this year's host
city, but the Chinese are focused on the next Games. "It's about
more than just sports," says Ren Hai, a professor at the Beijing
Sport University. "In 2008 China's development will be
acknowledged and accepted by the world."

Hyperactive fleets of bulldozers and cranes are working around
the clock to turn China's capital into a gleaming, high-tech
metropolis. Even as Athens races to finish its sporting venues,
Chinese organizers smugly proclaim that all major construction
for Beijing 2008 will be finished two years ahead of time. Such a
monumental building boom is far easier to direct in an
authoritarian state in which urban planners can reduce historic
neighborhoods into rubble with a single decree. But the majority
of Beijing's residents seem to agree with their government's
decision to trade crumbling buildings for showcase stadiums and
sleek expressways, and to spend $2.3 billion to renovate the
airport. "The Olympics represent modernity and hope to the
Chinese people," says Zhao Yu, a sports historian whose book
Superpower Dream chronicles China's Olympian efforts. "People can
hardly wait for Athens to finish so the real celebration can
begin."

The 17 days of the Beijing Games will highlight not just fancy
venues and eager-to-please hosts but also a Chinese team that
will be hard to beat. In barely a quarter century China
transformed itself from an Olympic afterthought to No. 3 in the
Sydney medal tally, after the U.S. and Russia. In 2008 China is
counting on a combination of home field advantage and the
hundreds of millions of dollars the state has invested in sports
programs to catapult it past even those two powerhouses. So far
the Chinese have mostly excelled in sports that cater to small,
lithe physiques (diving, gymnastics) or in lower-profile events
into which the country has poured money (shooting,
weightlifting). The country's so-called "gold medal strategy"--a
policy that is approved by no less than China's cabinet--is also
focused on developing women's sports, which the Chinese
discovered are underfunded in many Western nations. In Sydney,
China's women bettered Chairman Mao's famous maxim that "women
hold up half the sky" by winning 57.6% of the nation's medals.

But the ultimate goal is success in what one Chinese sports
official refers to as "the real sports, the ones with big balls
and big dreams." With NBA All-Star Yao Ming leading the way, the
nation is betting on its own basketball Dream Team by '08. The
Chinese also hope to dominate the diamond in four years' time,
even though they have never fielded an Olympic baseball team.

Athens may offer a glimpse of China's potential. In May, Liu
Xiang, a 21-year-old Shanghai native, upset world champion Allen
Johnson of the U.S. in the 110-meter hurdles at a Grand Prix
event in Osaka, Japan. If Liu strikes gold next month, it will
erase the embarrassing fact that although the nation of 1.3
billion won eight shooting medals in Sydney, it earned only one
track and field medal, in the unheralded women's 20-kilometer
race walk. Chinese citizens also hope that by 2008 the nation
will be able to end another mystifying Olympic drought: Thus far,
a nation with more bicycles than the United States has people has
never won a gold medal in cycling. Time to shift into a higher
gear.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID CALLOW From the Great Wall to the humblest gym, Chinese athletes aretraining for 2008, when the country hopes to win more medals thaneven the U.S. or Russia.