Olympic legacies: the medals
Our reporters in the three previous host cities give their verdicts on what the games have left behind
BY CLIFFORD COONAN
The Beijing 2008 sign on the road to the airport in the Chinese capital has faded, but it is still visible, a reminder of the time, four years ago, when the city hosted a memorable Olympiad. One World, One Dream was the motto as the communist government went into investment overdrive to ensure everything from the opening ceremony to the fabric of the city symbolised China’s return as a great nation.
Every year since Chinese GDP expanded by double-digit percentages until this year, when the economy looks set to grow by about 8 per cent. Thus the Olympics became inseparable in people’s minds from the rise of China’s financial might. The official line is that Beijing spent €2.5 billion, slightly ahead of budget, on staging the event and that profit came to slightly more than €128 million. But most unofficial estimates reckon China spent in the region of €30 billion, or around four times what Britain is spending.
Some sports venues have fared better than others. The rowing, beach-volleyball and cycling venues look disused, and there is a big gap where the baseball venue used to be. The most enduring of the Olympic constructions was the Bird’s Nest. More than 4.5 million people visited the Olympic Park last year, although the €400 million stadium is too big to be a regular sports venue. The National Aquatic Centre or Water Cube, in which the US swimmer Michael Phelps took eight gold medals, has been a surprising success as a water park.
The architectural transformation of Beijing has left a lasting legacy. The infrastructure was upgraded, and ancient hutong alleyways and courtyard houses were swept aside. Probably the most startling Olympic construction was the HQ of China’s state broadcaster CCTV (pictured). The outside of the building opened for the games, but the inside was not ready. Designed by Rem Koolhaas, the building now looks as if it will be ready by the time of the London games. Its opening was delayed after a fire at a nearby hotel.
When it won the right to stage the games, China made promises about improving human rights. There has been progress on many fronts. Foreign reporters are still allowed to travel freely around the country, except Tibet, and the rise of Weibo, a site like Twitter, has let Chinese people express their views much more openly. But there have also been setbacks. The Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo is in prison; the artist and activist Ai Weiwei, who helped design the Olympic Stadium, remains under surveillance; and press freedom has not improved.