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Beijing 08
Beijing diary: Food of champions
Michael Phelps' Olympian mega-calorie diet and other updates from Beijing.
Last Modified: 15 Aug 2008 09:50 GMT

After seven years of preparations and billions of dollars of investment, the Beijing 2008 Olympic games are finally under way.

Al Jazeera has a team of reporters, producers and correspondents in Beijing for the duration of the 29th summer Olympics, providing coverage on air and online throughout the games.

In this second part of our Beijing diary we will be posting notes from the team on the goings-on on and off the track - so keep coming back to read the latest entry.

Click here to catch up with the first part of our diary. 

Joe Havely, Al Jazeera website in Beijing
August 14, 2008

The food of champions

Michael Phelps - distinctly not powered by Olympic catering [EPA]
If you believe what they say in the papers, Michael Phelps, the US swimming ace, devours a daily diet of a gut-busting 12,000 calories to fuel his continuing gold run at the Beijing games.

According to Britain's Guardian newspaper his usual daily intake includes three fried-egg sandwiches, topped with cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, fried onions and mayonnaise; two cups of coffee and a five egg omelet... And by then he's only half way through breakfast. (Click here to read the Guardian's low-down on Phelps' menu)

But he'd be hard pushed to get anywhere near that target if he was at the mercy of Beiing's Olympic catering.

Attending the boxing at the Workers' Gymnasium last night, the closest we could get to the food of champions was some super-sweet popcorn and some distinctly unappealing shrinkwrapped sausages of questionable origin.

Pizza, sandwiches, pies… were all tantalizingly advertised, but spectacularly sold out, even well before the first punch of the first bought was thrown.

By my own rather unscientific calculations, should Mr Phelps find himself stuck in the Olympic boxing venue, he would need to chow through a massive three and a half kilos of popcorn  - that's more than 100 cinema-size cartons - to get anywhere near his daily calorific target.

A shabby spread indeed. And this in the capital of China – one of the foodiest of food-obsessed nations in the world, where the traditional greeting is, after all, "have you eaten yet?" 

 

Dan Nolan, Al Jazeera correspondent in Beijing
August 12, 2008

A peculiar beast

The Georgian team, right, turned out to be Brazilians [AFP]
For the world's media gathered in Beijing it was billed as the political story of the Olympics - Russia versus Georgia in a game of beach volleyball in Beijing. What would happen with the masses of Russian and Georgian fans watching together in the same venue?

As camera crews and reporters gathered outside the stadium in Beijing's Chaoyang park, the game - and the story - began to lose some of its luster when it emerged the Georgians were actually Brazilians. Naturalised Georgian citizens they may be, but both still live in Brazil.

There was also a distinct lack of Russian or Georgian fans. As the assembled media waited anxiously outside the venue, thousands of Chinese fans arrived along with hundreds of Americans, a smattering of Norwegians and even the occasional Australian. But not a single Russian or Georgian.

Then from the distance, out of the Beijing haze, appeared a fan with a Russian flag poking out from his cap. Cameras focused, journalists readied, the "Russian" appeared bemused.

"Are you Russian?" (an obvious, but essential question).
"No, German actually," (who would've thought?)

"Why the Russian flag in your hat then?" (a probing follow-up indeed.)
"My girlfriend is Russian." (things are now looking grim.)

"Have you ever been to Georgia? Is your name George?" (the fine art of desperately clutching at straws.)
"No." (the interview, and the story, is now over.)

For the record, the Brazilians/Georgians beat the Russians. While a German/Russian fan left the beach volleyball venue surely thinking the world's media is a peculiar beast indeed.

Tony Cheng, Al Jazeera Beijing correspondent
August 12, 2008

A delicate balance

Heavy security has put a dampener on the games for some [EPA]
You can paint them white - but armored vehicles positioned outside Beijing's Olympic village still stick out like a sore thumb.

China has made no secret of the massive security operation it has put in place for the Olympics, but for some the feeling is growing that the fine balance between sport and security has not been managed well.

On Tuesday an armored personnel carrier was deployed within the Olympic Green precinct while police armed with semi-automatic weapons made their first appearance outside the Olympic athletes' village.

That prompted criticism from the head of the Australian Olympic delegation who said many athletes felt the heavy security was dampening the Olympic atmosphere seen at previous games.

The organisers of Beijing 2008 have maintained throughout the buildup that there is a very real security threat to these games. That has meant tight security around the venues and restricted access only to ticket holders and athletes.

The massive new Olympic Green, incorporating a park which had been anticipating more than a hundred thousand visitors a day, is being dubbed a "ghost town", with locals locked out.

The threat identified by the government originates in Xinjiang, China's most Western province, and home to a separatist movement the authorities say is intent on disrupting the games.

There have been a series of attacks in Xinjiang in recent days, but little evidence of a threat in Beijing, more than 2,000km to the east.

In the capital much of the security is discreetly hidden – thousands of extra security cameras have been installed to keep watch on every part of the city. Elsewhere, such as in the case of a battery of anti-aircraft missile, it is more prominently place.

China is not known for taking a light hand when it comes to security, and these games have been no exception, especially with the world watching.

Dan Nolan, Al Jazeera correspondent in Beijing
August 10, 2008

 The not-so-great wall

Walls have been put up across Beijing as the city puts on its best face
Beijing's Olympic 'beautification' program is a funny piece of work. Everywhere you go in the Chinese capital, the scene is kind of perfect. There's no rubbish lying around, no construction under way and seemingly endless walls of "one world, one dream" signage.

But a pedestrian overpass in the Xitan shopping area of town provides an elevated view of what's behind many of those walls. On this occasion it's a few dilapidated hutongs, seemingly stuck about halfway between habitation and obliteration. Others hide construction sites - hardly messy by world standards but certainly not fit for international consumption at the "perfect Olympics".

Near the west gate of the famed Temple of Heaven, the beautification program has reached a new level of control. Five shops haven't yet sold out to the developers who are changing the face of Beijing. So a month ago, a team of bricklayers arrived - with a police escort - and built a 2.5 metre brick wall around them.

The shop-owners complained but say they've now been told it will be knocked down once the games are over. They're not against the Olympics in any way but can't work out why authorities had to build this less-than-great wall. It's caused a 50% drop in business for some, their Olympic dream of wallowing in tourist dollars is over.

When we visited these shops the women's road cycling race sped by less than 50 metres from their wall. Most of the shopkeepers came out to see the blur of helmets racing past. But those watching that race on tv around the world won't have seen even a glimpse of this little old part of China.

Melissa Chan, Beijing correspondent
August 9, 2008

The ceremony celebrated some previously reviled aspects of Chinese culture[GALLO/GETTY] 
If you can think back four years ago, you will remember the concern over whether the Greeks would finish their venues on time. As the day of the opening ceremony drew near, the issue only escalated until almost every single Olympic story would mention the delays at some point in the report.
 
The opening ceremony finally came ... and in the celebratory afterglow all was forgotten. And the world shifted focus to the much more appealing story of the athletes.
 
Beijing's run-up to the games has been far more controversial than Athens. So would the most expensive opening ceremony production manage to blow away the controversy? It would have to be truly mind blowing. And it was.
 
Thousands of synchronised drummers and martial artists wowed us all. And so this morning, Chinese woke up to find their dream a reality. The games have begun and, for the moment - it looks as if controversy and criticism have receded.
 
But I have one more lingering thought before enjoying the competitions. What was very interesting for me last night, having lived in Beijing for some time, is just what the Chinese decided to select from their culture to share with the world. Such as the Confucius segment.
 
Only a few decades ago, during the Cultural Revolution, this man and his philosophy was reviled. Mao's Red Guards attacked his tomb. His ways were "old ways" and therefore to be destroyed. But on Friday night, as communist party leaders sat in the best seats in the house, Confucius was extolled.
 
To top it off - bar the Chinese national flag - not a single communist image or symbol appeared in the entire programme. No hammer and sickle, and no Mao - the man who made probably the biggest mark on China in the last hundred years.
 
What was left out of the ceremony, as much as what was in it, speaks volumes about how China is changing.

Source:
Al Jazeera
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