An Olympians Visit to the XXIXth Olympiad
07.01.2009 by 1948 Olympian Rose Voisk
My Visit to Beijing and the XXIXth Olympiad
My experience in Beijing has surpassed all my expectations. As we landed at the Beijing Capital International Airport, currently the biggest one in the world, I was stunned at this spectacular, colossal piece of architecture with its cutting edge technology and operational efficiency for passengers’ comfort. It is designed energy efficient, allowing natural lighting for everyone to enjoy and relax. Beijing subway was another pleasant surprise. It is high tech, super modern with decorative, bright stations and immaculate cleanliness.
I went on this trip, from August 11-28, with my best friend and a very savvy, wonderful travel companion, Mary Mak. Upon World Olympians Association’s recommendation, we stayed at the Beijing Soluxe Courtyard Hotel that opened on July 1, 2008. If you wish to see the transformation from the former site of two Ming temples to the renovations on the buildings which are embellished with elegant decoration in the distinctive architecture of Ming and Qing dynasties, I suggest that you view the website of the current hotel, www.soluxecourtyardhotel.com/english/contact.asp. We had a comfortable bungalow room facing the majestic court with an ancient tree more than 500 years old, a small waterfall, a pond with golden fish, and a garden of bamboos and flowers blooming everywhere. The hotel staff offered service of the highest quality, and everyone was most helpful and very friendly. I would highly recommend this hotel to anyone who seeks accommodation in Beijing.
To this date, I have been to eight Olympics (6 Summer: in 1976 Montreal, 1984 Los Angeles, 1996 Atlanta, 2000 Sydney, 2004 Athens, 2008 Beijing; and 2 Winter: in 2002 Salt Lake City, 2006 Torino) as a visitor/spectator. I felt privileged to have the opportunity to attend and enjoy all the mentioned Olympics. What’s more, I have nothing but the highest regard and appreciation for every host nation that embraces the challenge of this monumental task and enormous responsibility to stage the grandest spectacle on earth. However, if I compare the XXIXth Olympiad to any other one I have been to, in my judgment, it is the Chinese who deserve the utmost praise for the outstanding work they have done to show to the world the strikingly beautiful, incomparable Olympic venues, particularly the Bird's Nest National Stadium and the Water Cube, as well as the breath-taking, unique, unforgettable Opening and Closing Ceremonies and unusually well organized, exciting Olympic events. The Chinese can also pride themselves on their efficient security measures at the Olympic venues and the subway stations as well as the cleanliness of their capital that was basking in the Olympic spirit and glory.
We attended seven Olympic events: Track and Field Final, Artistic Gymnastics Women’s Individual All-Around Final, Basketball: Argentina vs. Iran, Diving 10m Platform Final for Women and Men, Diving 3m Springboard Preliminaries, and Beach Volleyball: Gold Medal match of USA vs. Brazil. We were watching some of the events on television. As for me, every Olympic event is exciting, regardless what sport or nationality of the athletes. It is a special thrill to see any athlete in the Olympic arena compete and do whatever it takes to be his/her best.
Since 1948, when I competed as a gymnast representing former Yugoslavia at the XIVth Olympiad in London, the Olympics have evolved considerably, primarily due to the rapid progress in technology and innovative ideas. In 1948, Europe was still ravaged from World War II, and the British had only three years to prepare for the Games. Considering difficult circumstances, it was surprising that the 1948 Olympics turned out to be very popular and a great success. About 4,000 athletes participated, representing 59 countries. Sixty years later, more than 10,000 athletes from 204 countries competed in the Beijing Games. Even though the increase of the number of countries/athletes in the Olympics has been significant, nowadays, the main focus is on winning rather than participation. In 1948, when we marched into the Wembley Stadium for the Opening Ceremony, it was the Olympic Creed shown on the scoreboard that made a lasting impression on me: “The important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part. The essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well.” This inspirational motto is attributed to the founder of the modern Olympiads, French scholar and athlete, Pierre de Coubertin. I have not seen the Olympic Creed displayed at any other Olympiad that I attended. In addition, I still vividly remember the most surprising, unforgettable moment in the 1948 Opening Ceremony on a bright, sunny day: When King George VI declared the Games open, about 2,500 pigeons were released and the Olympic flag was raised. It was awesome to see so many live doves, symbolizing peace and harmony, circling freely the stadium for a while before flying home. Since London has already hosted two Olympics (1908, 1948) successfully, I trust that the British will again excel in staging memorable Games of the XXXth Olympiad, in 2012.
Since 1996 Atlanta Games, there has been an Olympians Reunion Center (ORC) at every Olympics that welcomes Olympians from past Games. It provides them with a private venue where they can meet old friends, make new ones and enjoy refreshments while watching the sporting events on television. During the Beijing Olympics, the Olympians Reunion Center was located in the historic Prince Jun Palace, adjacent to Chaoyang Park in the Central Business District of Beijing.
There were several special events taking place at ORC. The most important one was the press conference for Michael Phelps upon his winning eight gold medals. It was quite a thrill seeing this Olympic phenomenon in person. There was another event at ORC that took me by surprise. It was held in honor of 1948 Olympians who were present at the Beijing Games. Unfortunately, there were only five of us: four USA 1948 Olympic track and field athletes/medalists (all men) and I, the only 1948 Olympic gymnast. The President of the World Olympians Association, Dick Fosbury, delivered a moving speech, emphasizing that we were the pioneers of the Olympic movement and honored each of us individually. The event was followed by a wonderful reception.
In addition, we did as much sightseeing as possible within our 17-day trip. It was interesting to see and learn about the history of the Chinese landmarks such as Tian’anmen Square, Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace, Confucius Temple, and Yonghe Lama Temple. Furthermore, we enjoyed immensely the colorful Beihai Park and the Beijing Zoo and Aquarium with more than 7,000 animals including adorable small and giant pandas. At the Tea House, we sampled several teas: Puerh Tea, White Tea, Golden Green Tea, Oriental Beauty Tea, and Litchi Tea (my favorite). We treated ourselves with the dinner at Baijia da Yuan Restaurant, famous for imperial court cuisine in the garden style of the Qing Dynasty. In addition, we visited the National Arts Museum of China, and saw the Chinese Opera (high pitched) at Changan Grand Theatre and the most exciting Kungfu Show in the world at The Red Theatre. We took a Rickshaw tour of the scenic Hutong and Siheyuan scenic courtyard homes and old-style Beijing streets and residences. Finally, we went on a one-day most exciting sightseeing tour, the Badaling Great Wall, the best preserved part of the Ming Great Wall with over 600 years history. We climbed stairs, some of them very steep, up to the fifth tower where we enjoyed the striking view and danced along with a few other tourists to express our achievement and to prove that we still had enough energy to walk all way down to the bottom. At the end, I said to Mary: “No wonder that the Great Wall is one of the Seven Wonders in the World.” In addition, I would like to mention our visits to the pearl factory/store, the jade factory/store where I learned that jade for Chinese is as precious as gold is for us, and the silk factory/store, as well as the Xiushui Market (aka Silk Market) where you can get nearly anything under the sun at the lowest possible price providing you are an expert in bargaining.
This trip was rather strenuous, but the experience has been priceless, filled with unexpected, special surprises.