Aug 8, 2008

Sport - Let the quadrennial extravaganza begin

China is all set to showcase its brilliance as a host and sports superpower

BEIJING: The wait is over. The count-down is done. China is ready for a new dawn, with the opening of the Olympic Games on Friday.

Equally, the world is ready for the ‘D-Day’ to greet a new sports super-power that has already made an impact and influenced the life-style in every house-hold around the world, with varied products, ‘Made in China’.

The world is waiting to see whether China can dethrone the undisputed champion nation of the last few editions, the United States, by topping the gold-medal tally. The gap had been bridged to a mere four medals in Athens, and China is ready for the knock-out punch at home, despite being a good host.

The power of China is known to the world. The new strength it has acquired by putting man-power and machinery in place for a gigantic project costing $40 billion is bound to enhance its image as a country that is fast opening out to the world, yet retains its mystique.

The only failure eventually could be China’s inability to clear the atmosphere of pollution, despite trying everything that it could.

All decked up

The stage is set and Beijing is all decked up with world-class venues, including the ‘Bird’s Nest’, the National Stadium, that has 36 kilometres of steel inter-twined as twigs, for breathtaking architecture.

While hundreds of athletes are anxious to carry their National flag in the opening ceremony, scheduled at an appropriate time by the Chinese at 8 hours, 8 minutes and 8 seconds in the evening on August 8, 2008, the 10,000-odd athletes are itching to get on with the action.

Had anyone said that it was 20 hours at 8 p.m., the Chinese may have even planned to have the opening ceremony in the morning!

Superb 100m clash

Anyway, even the birds may stop to watch the fun, when the ‘nest’ freezes for just over nine seconds to imbibe the most electric action that would decide the fastest man on earth. It could well turn out to be the mother of all races when Tyson Gay tries to assert the American supremacy in athletics, against world-record holder Usain Bolt and the other Jamaican, Asafa Powell, in the 100 metre dash.

The towering Bolt, measuring 1.96 metres in height, took 41.5 strides to get to the world record. Others take 45! He can afford to have a slow start, or even skip a step, to give allowance for his imposing personality.

If we get carried away by the traditional focus on 100 metres, we may be mistaken as the focus in this edition is all about Liu Xiang retaining his 110 metre hurdles gold.

If he meets the challenge from Cuban Dayron Robles, Liu Xiang is likely to send millions of home fans into a dizzy by winning the title at home. Maybe it will require him to set a new world record.

Phelps’s big attempt

How can anyone forget the second attempt by Michael Phelps to break the seven-gold record of Mark Spitz in the 1972 Games in Munich. The second ‘big fish’ from America after Spitz, Phelps had failed in Athens by winning only six gold medals and two bronze !

With the U.S. pretty serious about retaining its monopoly at the top for the fifth-edition in succession, and setting up a three-million dollar training base at the Beijing Normal University, a 15-minute drive away from the Olympic village, Phelps has his task cut out. Every gold counts.

Russia may have been hit by a series of dope positive cases in recent days, but you can trust the Russians, the dominant partner in the erstwhile Soviet Union, to give a tough time for both the host and the US. The Australian women swimmers will be keen to press their case as a very sporting continent, while the Japanese will be equally sharp to show that they are second only to China in Asia.

India’s golden dreams

With China looking to win one more gold medal than the US, the second most populous country in the world, India will be looking for its first gold medal in the last seven editions.

Eight-time gold medallist India has slipped so badly in hockey that it does not figure this time around. If this humiliation hurts, Indian sports will be ready for a renaissance.

The onus will be on the shooters, led by the flag-bearer Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, tennis aces Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi, the boxers and the archers, to take that small step up from the silver medal in Athens.

If you harness man-power, you can become a super-power. China is ready to show-case the ultimate Olympics. We need to learn our primary lessons, all over again.

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