Games get great play in China
Updated: 2012-07-28 01:11
By Andrew Moody and Zhao Yinan in Beijing and Fu Jing in London (China Daily)
Chen Miao, a gymnastics fan, strikes a pose in front of a London bus at the National Aquatics Center in Beijing on Friday, as the city's residents are in a festival mood to celebrate the opening of the London Olympics. Chen dreams of winning gold at the Olympics one day. [Photo/China Daily]
Country that played host in 2008 prepares to watch 2012 London edition in very, very large numbers
Though the opening ceremony for the Olympic Games took place in London, the largest group of spectators gathered around their TV sets and computers in the middle of the night in China.
Viewership of the summer Games in the nation that last hosted them is expected to be more than any other country in the world.
According to a poll by Ipsos published on the eve of the Games, 92 percent of the population planned to watch the event at some point, a far greater proportion than even the 61 percent in the host country, the United Kingdom.
Gu Xiaowei, 24, a marketing executive for Mercedes Benz from Shanghai, said she wouldn't miss the opening ceremony for the world.
She was gearing up for the Games by visiting a special London display — which featured a replica London bus at the National Aquatics Center in Beijing — with her boyfriend on Friday.
"We will be going to sleep for a while and then we will get up. It doesn't matter if I'm tired in the morning," she said.
Boyfriend Li Jiankun, also 24, added that he had been anticipating the event since the closing ceremony in Beijing.
"I think it will be impressive but it will be difficult to stage something as spectacular as Beijing because China spent so much on it," he said.
China won 100 medals at the 2008 Games, including 51 golds, more than any other nation.
Pen Xinyi, 26, who is studying at Goldsmiths College at the University of London, said she would be watching the opening ceremony with colleagues on the big screen in Hyde Park.
"The opening ceremony will be almost like a graduation party for us. We hope to get a good spot and, of course, we will bring umbrellas just in case it rains," she said.
Games: Event lifts host's profile as tourist destination
Ma Jilong, director of the marketing department of the Chinese Olympic Committee, said the British, who were showing a lack of interest according to some newspaper polls, were now beginning to warm to the event.
"With just a few hours before the opening ceremony, I finally can feel the atmosphere of the Olympic host city. Flags are waving all over the streets and the Olympic traffic lanes are beginning to get busy," he said.
The Chinese are particularly keen to follow their heroes, including Lin Dan, the 29-year-old reigning Olympic champion and four-time world champion badminton player and, of course, Liu Xiang, the 110-meter hurdler who won gold in Athens but broke the nation's heart when he walked off the track unable to compete on home soil.
Zhang Yidang, 23, a freelance photographer based in Xi'an, will be looking out for Chinese Olympics stars like Liu.
"I will certainly be paying attention to his performance this time. I am very excited about the Olympics in London because I am a sports fan. I will watch every event," she said.
The big question for many Chinese is whether the country will do as well in London as it did at home in terms of the medals tally.
Jiang Zhichao, 30, a civil servant with the Wuxi municipal bureau of sports in Jiangsu province, thinks it will be difficult to better the 2008 tally.
"I don't think we can win more medals, but I think we can still win a lot of them given that the government has invested a lot in sports. It is certainly very good for national morale if we win medals. It is important for Chinese people," he said.
Yang Zhen, 17, a student at Suqian Middle School in Jiangsu province, believes Chinese athletes may perform better because they will be under less pressure than they were at home.
"It will make it easier for them and as a result, I think they can win more medals," she says.
The dream of an Olympic gold motivates the very young in China.
Eight-year-old Chen Miao from Harbin in Heilongjiang province, who was also at the National Aquatics Center on Friday, said she practices gymnastics every day to achieve her goal.
"I hope to win a gold at the next Olympics in Brazil. I am very excited," she said.
Whether London will be as a big branding opportunity and commercial success as Beijing remains to be seen.
Sports brand marketing expert Mike Bastin, a researcher at Nottingham University's School of Contemporary Chinese Studies, who was in Beijing last time but will now be watching in the UK, believes London has more commercial potential.
"I think it will provide a bigger platform for Asian brands than Beijing since there is more Western exposure. I think it is also a golden opportunity for China to showcase its companies and their brands," he said.
Since the Beijing Games many Chinese have developed a fascination for London, rushing to January sales to get designer bargains and buying up properties in some of the most exclusive parts of the British capital.
This, too, is an added attraction of the Games being held in London.
Guo Xiamei, 27, who is studying for a PhD at Ohio State University in the United States, said it will draw Chinese people even more to the Games.
"It is a definite plus that the Games are in London. It has so much history and cultural attractions such as the British Museum and Big Ben," she said.
Much of the speculation on Friday was whether the London opening ceremony, directed by Slumdog Millionaire director Danny Boyle, could possibly match the spectacular Beijing event of four years ago.
It was set to cost 34 million euros ($42 million) to stage and reflect themes that depict the history and culture of the UK, including Shakespeare and the National Heath Service.
Lang Lang, who performed in Beijing, said on Friday the focus was now on London.
"It was my great honor to perform in the Beijing Olympic Games. At that time, the world had its eyes on Beijing. Similarly, now London, as the host city of the Games, has attracted global attention," he said.
For many, the Olympic Games are about fulfilling dreams, especially for those watching the first time.
For 4-year-old Yang Chenxi from Huzhou in Zhejiang province, the swimming will remind her of Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid.
"It is like a swimming competition for princesses. I want to be a champion in swimming," she said.
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