Olympic Wrap-Up

From all anecdotal evidence, the 2008 Beijing Olympics lived up to its promise and was a great success.

Whether sitting in the Bird’s Nest or watching on television, everyone was simply blown away by the show China put on for the Opening Ceremony. Friends of mine in Beijing had nothing but good things to say about the events they attended—and that certainly was my experience as well. People whom I have talked to—from places like the United States, Germany and the United Kingdom—-all have said that the Games, Beijing and China came across very well in their countries.

For future Olympics, whether in China or elsewhere, it might be useful to compare expectations going into the Games with what actually happened. In the case of Beijing 2008, the weather and air quality was the number one topic from the outset. Everyone was concerned that the air around Beijing would be downright ugly. Rather than coming directly to the city, many teams trained in Singapore, Japan or other spots in Asia with cleaner environments; others showed up wearing surgical masks.

Despite the odd/even license plate system, many thought that hyped up security measures would make getting around Beijing and into the Olympic venues nearly impossible. Hotels had been reportedly booked full for more than a year in advance of the Games, and I know many people who avoided or postponed travel to Beijing for this reason. Tickets—forget about it. The procedures for getting them were so daunting that many people didn’t even try. Finally, some restaurants were clearly charging Olympic prices during the Games, and many had gone to fairly expensive set menus. With my entire family in town, I thought it was going to be very difficult for us to have a nice meal out as a group.

What actually happened? I was always a bit more optimistic on the weather, so I may be biased, but air quality didn’t seem to be as big a factor as many thought. Over the two-week period, there were certainly some ugly, hazy days, but we also had some rainy ones followed by days with sunny blue skies. As we got into the second week, temperatures also became a bit cooler.

Getting around Beijing and into the venues was relatively easy. Traffic was light, and my daily commute to the office was shortened by at least 10 minutes. Our worst experience was taking a “shuttle bus” to the Bird’s Nest from our apartment one morning. The bus was cheap, air conditioned and clean, but it wasn’t exactly shuttling. We must have made 30 stops before we finally arrived. From there it was all downhill. We took the subway back from the Bird’s Nest —a nice, clean ride which dropped us a block from the apartment and only cost two yuan, and we were able to be dropped off right at the gates of Worker’s Stadium last Thursday evening to watch the U.S. women take the gold in soccer.

Hotels had rooms. In fact, I know of several people who scheduled last minute business trips to Beijing and were able to find suitable accommodations. By the end of the Games, tickets were everywhere. Scalpers began showing up near the venues and in the train stations, and when chased away, there was always the Internet. Other than for the men’s basketball finals and certain other events, tickets were ultimately available for just about everything.  Last but not least, there were plenty of good restaurants that could take a group of eight and whose prices were reasonable. We had particularly good experiences at Mare (one of our favorites) and Lan, which allowed us to deviate from their set menu so that we could celebrate my son’s birthday with his favorite dishes.

The worst thing about the Games is that they are now over. Given all of the buzz and anticipation, it’s hard to believe how fast the days flew by. I don’t know about you, but the last three weeks have been three of my most memorable in China.

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