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China's Post-Olympic Woe: How To Fill An Empty Nest

News - Olympic Games

As the opening date for the London Olympics nears, Beijing's acclaimed Olympic venues are saddled with high maintenance costs and are struggling to get by. And the most famous, the Bird's Nest stadium, has been repudiated by its own creator, dissident Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.

Even the state-run government mouthpiece, the China Daily, worries that Beijing's iconic structures risk becoming "white elephants."

To the bang of drums and the roar of the crowds, Beijing's 2008 Olympics opened with a boom. The spectacular opening ceremony was fitting for the spectacular Bird's Nest. Girdled with strips of concrete, it was an ambitious structure for a new superpower.


But four years on, the Bird's Nest is looking tired and empty.

A 'Kind Of Dirty' Construction Zone

These days, a smattering of mostly Chinese tour groups trickles though the stadium. Visitor numbers are in free fall: They plummeted by half in the first six months of 2011 compared with a year before, according to state-run media. The Bird's Nest cost $480 million to build, and its upkeep costs $11 million a year.

But the only international visitors sitting in the stands on a recent day aren't impressed.

"For me, it's just a huge concrete place," says German tourist Christian Lodz. "Personally I think, after four years, it looks a little bit shabby."

"What I think is interesting is that it's just not used for anything useful," says his countryman Henne Zelle, waving at a crane and tarpaulins in the middle of the stadium. "There's a construction zone there, and it's kind of dirty."

The problem is how to fill the empty expanse of seats; the stadium is designed to house 91,000 spectators.

Since the Olympics, a number of tactics have been tried: The construction of man-made ski slopes turned it temporarily into a winter wonderland, and tightrope walker Adili Wuxor spent two months living suspended on a tightrope above the Bird's Nest trying to set a new world record.

It's a far cry from the world record set by Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, who set the mark for the 100 meters and the 200 meters in the packed Bird's Nest. Now, tourists wobble around the same track on Segways, which they hire for just over $20 for 15 minutes.

There's even a small waxworks museum, exhibiting figurines of all the past and present presidents of the International Olympic Committee. When he called Beijing's Olympic venues "beautiful" and "unprecedented," current IOC President Jacques Rogge can hardly have known he would be immortalized in wax inside one of those venues, always photo-ready, should the visitor be willing to part with $1.50 for the privilege.

But the long-term future of the stadium is unclear. The Beijing soccer team, Guo'an, shied away from making it their home, perhaps wary of the costs. There are few events that can fill enough seats.

This summer, the stadium stands unused — except as a tourist destination — for three months, from the end of an equestrian show in May until its next engagement, a soccer match between British teams Arsenal and Manchester City at the end of July.

Cube's Qualified Success Story

The Beijing National Aquatics Center, on the other hand, has found an afterlife. Known as the Water Cube, the translucent color-shifting building, where the swimming events were held, is the only Beijing Olympic venue that was financed by public donations, in this case by 350,000 overseas Chinese.

Now, one part of it has been turned into a water park, where swimmers shoot down colorful tubes into the pools of water. It's even launched a line of branded goods, including Water Cube alcohol, which sells at a cool $150 a bottle.

But still, turning a profit isn't easy.

"It's extremely, extremely difficult not to lose money," Yang Qiyong, the Water Cube's deputy manager, says with a frank laugh.

He angrily denies state-run media reports that the facility lost $1.5 million last year. But according to the state-run Global Times, Yang says the Water Cube attracted nearly 2.1 million visitors in 2011, 30 percent fewer compared with the year before.

"Although we put in a lot of effort, the trend of diminishing numbers can't be reversed," he says.

Yang says the Water Cube narrowly broke even last year, though it required $1.5 million in government subsidies.

"Without that money, we couldn't hold important sports events. Some international competitions clearly lose lots of money. But in order to maintain our venue's image, we must host them," Yang says.

And it's all about image.

"It really is worth it," Yang says. "Regardless of whether you're talking about Beijingers or Chinese people, we needed a landmark venue, a place whose image is beautiful."

China's Pride Or Propaganda?

Chinese tourist Wang Xiaoyu feels the same way, as he stands inside the Bird's Nest for the first time.

"I'm proud that China has this great architecture, that it can build such a great world monument. How can you not feel proud?" he asks, beaming from ear to ear.

The official audio tour describes the stadium in these symbolic terms: "The Bird's Nest, as a symbol of the rise of the Chinese nation, will follow the nation's footsteps in its rise to glory."

But the Chinese artist who helped conceive of the Bird's Nest now says he regrets having designed such a monument to China's Communist leaders.

Ai Weiwei designed the stadium, together with Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron. But Ai has never set foot inside the finished building.

He told NPR that the stadium has become entirely divorced from ordinary people.

"We love this building, but we don't like the content they have put in, the kind of propaganda. They dissociated this building [from] citizens' celebration or happiness; [it's] not integrated with the city's life," Ai said. "So I told them I will never go to this building."

The triumphant music pumped out into the Bird's Nest over video of cheering crowds now falls into a vacuum. It was designed as a stage for China's coming-out party, to send a message to the world. But in this land of government-backed vanity projects, this empty, echoing stadium now sends a very different message.

-Louisa Lim

www.npr.org

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Team USA basketball squad: LeBron James and Kobe Bryant in team for London 2012 Olympics

News - Olympic Games

Five members of the gold medal winning line-up at the 2008 Beijing Games were included in the 12-man US Olympic basketball team announced by USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo on Saturday.

LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Deron Williams return for another bid for Olympic glory and will spearhead a potent roster in London where the US are favourites.

Colangelo announced the selections after two US team training sessions in Las Vegas, though final approval is still required by the US Olympic Committee.

"We projected we would have difficulty getting down to a roster of 12, regardless of the number of injuries that have taken place, because they are such an outstanding group of people and athletes," Colangelo said in a statement.

"The final selections keep us in concert with our game plan to have athleticism, versatility and strong depth on our roster. I think our final roster epitomises all of that."

The US team had been hit by a recent rash of injuries to several leading candidates, including Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls, Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic and Miami Heat players Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

"We have benefited so much from having a pool of outstanding players who are committed, and as a result the selection is difficult," US coach Mike Krzyzewski said.

"But it's the best challenge that you could have because everyone has been so committed."

Meanwhile, Russia and Lithuania secured their Olympic places by advancing to the final of the qualifying tournament in Venezuela on Saturday night.

Alexey Shved poured in 22 points to lead the Russians to an 85-77 victory over Nigeria in the first semi-final in Caracas and then Jonas Maciulis' 19-point haul helped Lithuania stroll past Dominican Republic 109-83.

The losing semi-finalists will go head to head on Sunday for the one remaining berth on offer for London 2012.

-Telegraph Sport

Source: www.telegraph.co.uk

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Team USA basketball squad: LeBron James and Kobe Bryant in team for London 2012 Olympics

News - Olympic Games

Five members of the gold medal winning line-up at the 2008 Beijing Games were included in the 12-man US Olympic basketball team announced by USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo on Saturday.

LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Deron Williams return for another bid for Olympic glory and will spearhead a potent roster in London where the US are favourites.

Colangelo announced the selections after two US team training sessions in Las Vegas, though final approval is still required by the US Olympic Committee.

"We projected we would have difficulty getting down to a roster of 12, regardless of the number of injuries that have taken place, because they are such an outstanding group of people and athletes," Colangelo said in a statement.

"The final selections keep us in concert with our game plan to have athleticism, versatility and strong depth on our roster. I think our final roster epitomises all of that."

The US team had been hit by a recent rash of injuries to several leading candidates, including Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls, Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic and Miami Heat players Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

"We have benefited so much from having a pool of outstanding players who are committed, and as a result the selection is difficult," US coach Mike Krzyzewski said.

"But it's the best challenge that you could have because everyone has been so committed."

Meanwhile, Russia and Lithuania secured their Olympic places by advancing to the final of the qualifying tournament in Venezuela on Saturday night.

Alexey Shved poured in 22 points to lead the Russians to an 85-77 victory over Nigeria in the first semi-final in Caracas and then Jonas Maciulis' 19-point haul helped Lithuania stroll past Dominican Republic 109-83.

The losing semi-finalists will go head to head on Sunday for the one remaining berth on offer for London 2012.

-Telegraph Sport

Source: www.telegraph.co.uk

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Sunshine 'unlikely' for London Olympics

News - Olympic Games

Sunny weather in London is "very unlikely" during the Olympic Games which begin later this month, forecasters said after the wettest June on record in Britain.
Britain's Met Office predicted slightly better conditions for the month ahead than in recent weeks when torrential rains triggered severe flooding in parts of the country.
But forecasters said "below average sunshine" and temperatures are expected during the London 2012 Games which run from July 27 to August 12.
"Climatologically this is the warmest part of the year, but this year a protracted spell of hot, sunny weather looks very unlikely," the Met Office said in its 30-day outlook.
"In fact the inclement weather that has characterised June and early July will probably still be in evidence, although overall conditions are unlikely to be as bad."
Very wet conditions in southern England were more probable than dry ones, the Met Office warned, while stressing that the outlook for rainfall remained "extremely uncertain".
The forecast comes as heavy rains continue to hit large swathes of Britain where authorities issued more than 150 flood alerts and warnings on Sunday.
A man in his early 20s was killed in Northumberland, in northeast England, on Saturday after his car crashed on a rain-drenched road.
Meanwhile at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone 25,000 spectators were told to go home on Saturday because of flooded car parks.
Britain experienced double the average amount of rainfall last month, making it the wettest June since records began in 1910, the Met Office said.
The period from April to June was also the wettest recorded.
Celebrations for Queen Elizabeth II's diamond jubilee were marred by the inclement weather in early June but millions of Britons turned out regardless to mark her 60 years on the throne.

-AFP

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Olympic medals delivered to Tower of London for safe keeping ahead of Games

News - Olympic Games

The prized Olympic and Paralympic medals are now under lock and key at the Tower of London, where the Crown Jewels are kept under armed guard.

The next time the coveted gold, silver and bronze prizes will be seen in public is when they are draped around the necks of the winning athletes at the London 2012. They will stay in secure vaults at the Tower of London until then.

The winners of the men's and women’s 10m air pistol should be the first athletes to receive their medals.

The medals were taken down to the vaults by London 2012 chairman Lord Coe and Jan du Plessis, chairman of mining company Rio Tinto which is in charge of mining the precious metals for the medals.

Lord Co, who is a two-time Olympic 1500m gold medallist, said: “For an athlete, winning an Olympic or Paralympic medal represents the conclusion of thousands of hours of training and reaching the highest level in sport.

“The victory ceremonies then provide the moment they can truly celebrate their success. It’s great that the London 2012 medals will be kept safe and secure at the Tower of London until then.'

Rio Tinto handed over the medals for safekeeping at a special ceremony where a fanfare by the trumpeters of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines Collingwood hailed their arrival.

The Tower’s famous Yeoman Warders and 150 east London children from schools which are part of London 2012’s Get Set educational network were also in attendance.

A total of 4,700 medals are to be awarded in 805 victory ceremonies that will take place in over 30 London 2012 venues.

Olympics minister Hugh Robertson noted: 'To the athletes competing to win these medals they are as precious as the Crown Jewels, so it is fitting that they should be stored for safe keeping in the same iconic location.'

Over eight tonnes of gold, silver and copper has been extracted and refined to make the medals.

The hard-fought-for medals will be priceless to the athletes who get to take them home but, despite the price of gold having soared in the recession-hit years since the 2008 Beijing Games, the sporting treasures are not made of pure gold.

The top prize is made up of 92.5 per cent silver, 1.34 per cent gold while the remainder is copper. It contains a minimum of 6g of gold. The silver medal is 92.5 per cent silver and the rest is copper.

Bronze medallists win medals that are made up of 97 per cent copper, 2.5 per cent zinc and 0.5 per cent tin.

The medals started life as ore dug up on opposite sides of the world - at Rio Tinto’s Kennecott Utah Copper Mine near Salt Lake City in the US and from its Oyu Tolgoi project in Mongolia.

The Olympic medals have been designed by artist David Watkins and the
Paralympic medals were by Lin Cheung, jewellery artist and senior lecturer in jewellery design at Central Saint Martin’s College of Arts and Design.

The Olympic medals’ circular form is a metaphor for the world. The front of the medal always depicts the same imagery at the summer Games - the Greek Goddess of Victory, Nike, stepping out of the depiction of the Parthenon to arrive in the host city.

The front of the Paralympic medal represents spirit in motion. The image struck into the other side is an imagined close-up section of an outstretched wing of Goddess of Victory, Nike.

This is to represent forward flight, power and lightness - a natural metaphor for the spirit of the Paralympic Games.

The medals are being held in a vault that is below ground and secured with a unique barcoded seal.
It can only be opened in the presence of a London 2012 guardian who is a security-cleared official.

-Sportsmail Reporter

Source: www.dailymail.co.uk

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Felicien, Lopes-Schliep fail to qualify in women's hurdles for London Games

News - Olympic Games

CALGARY -- Two of Canada's greatest hurdlers saw their Olympic dreams come to a crushing end Saturday.

Priscilla Lopes-Schliep and Perdita Felicien both failed to qualify for Canada's team bound for London in a dramatic women's 100-metre hurdles final that saw heptathlete Jessica Zelinka emerge the winner.

"I've dusted off. I'm not going to let it get the better of me. Everything happens for a reason," said Lopes-Schliep, who was considered one of Canada's top hopes for a medal in London -- her face is even on a Cheerios box as part of an Olympic promo.

The 2008 Olympic bronze medallist from Whitby, Ont., and the world's fifth-fastest hurdler this season, needed only a top-three finish at the Olympic track and field trials to make the squad. But she finished fifth after crashing into the seventh hurdle and nearly reeling into another lane, prompting a gasp from the fans packed into the stands at Foothills Athletics Park.

Felicien, a former world champion who had tasted Olympic heartbreak twice already, was disqualified for a false start.

"It's not difficult (to accept), because I've had a really long career, a really successful career I don't define myself by Olympic medals or Olympic moments," Felicien said. "They're wonderful, they're beautiful, that's the epitome of our sport. And that's where I want to be. I feel I deserve to be there, but who deserves what?"

Zelinka, from London, Ont., raced to a career-best 12.68 seconds. Phylicia George of Markham, Ont., won the silver medal in 12.72, while Nikkita Holder of Pickering, Ont., captured bronze in 12.80. The top three finishers had the Olympic standard, so barring any further appeals, they should be the trio named to Canada's team on Sunday.

Lopes-Schliep had the potential to be one of the biggest feel-good stories of the Games. The 29-year-old, whose likeness has been splashed across media and marketing campaigns in the months leading up to London, was the world No. 1-ranked hurdler in 2010 and claimed the prestigious Diamond League title that season before taking a year off to become a mom. Her daughter Nataliya was born in September.

"It's a hurdle race, and unfortunately I hit a hurdle really hard and I wasn't able to recover from it," Lopes-Schliep said. "It's disappointing. You want to go out there, you want to give your best. I felt really good. And unfortunately Hurdle 7 got the better of me.

"Darn Hurdle 7," Lopes-Schliep added, with a sad laugh.

Felicien raced under protest and crossed third, just ahead of Holder. The 31-year-old from Pickering, Ont., who crashed in the final of the 2004 Olympics and missed the 2008 Games with a foot injury, appealed her disqualification based on the noise of the crowd at the start, but it was denied about 45 minutes later by a technical committee.

"Unfortunately it's a race of nerves, it's a race of milli-seconds, and breaths and heartbeats, one person laughs, one person coughs, one person's clapping, or cheering for somebody else at the wrong moment, it sets you off," Felicien said. "It's like you're on a gun ready to be cocked and let go, and I got the short end of the stick today. No excuses, my fault."

The 30-year-old Zelinka capped a stunning week with her hurdles victory, which came two days after she won the heptathlon in a Canadian-record performance.

Zelinka, who was fifth in Beijing and then took a year off to become a mom -- her daughter Anika is three -- let out a shriek when she crossed the line.

"It's so exciting," Zelinka said. "To be able to do that and perform on demand like that, it's an amazing feeling. It would be ridiculous if I didn't want to replicate that in London."

Zelinka will compete in both heptathlon and hurdles in London, but her decision to double came after a talk with her coach. Plus a good cry. Accepting a spot in the hurdles meant leaving another hurdler at home.

"This is a horrible situation," she said through tears, before finally making her decision to double in London. "There was no good outcome really. I ran a super-good, world class time. I wanted to be in this position now that I'm here I don't know."

Her coach Les Gramantik urged her to do both events in London, saying she deserved it.

"At some point you have to look at, 'Did you earn it? Yes. Are you better than everybody?' Yes. It's not a Salvation Army here," Gramantik said. "Friendship or not, the reality is life goes on. She proved she's better than anyone else right now."

Asked how he feels Zelinka will fare in the hurdles in London, the coach said: "She's not going to win a medal in 100 metre hurdles. Well, maybe. Maybe I'm wrong. I hope. I was wrong twice. I was married twice."

Earlier in the day, Dylan Armstrong won the men's shot put title to cement his spot on the Olympic team for London.

Armstrong, who needed only a top-three finish to clinch an Olympic spot, threw 21.29 metres, despite a slick throwing circle that had the field of throwers complaining. At one point, the world silver medallist turned to another athlete and said "The throwing circle is brutal, man. It's a sheet of glass."

The distance was well off his Canadian-record toss of 22.21 he threw at last year's national championships in Calgary.

"Today was just about having fun and giving the people here a chance to look and see what we do," said Armstrong, one of Canada's top hopes for a medal in London. "I was really happy with the result, it was a bit challenging with the circle, it was definitely a lot slicker than last year. I think everybody had to make some technical adjustments today, but I'm definitely happy where I'm at right now."

Justin Rodhe, also of Kamloops, was second with 20.30, while Tim Nedow of Brockville, Ont., threw 20.21 for bronze.

Like Armstrong, Rodhe had achieved the Olympic qualifying standard and needed only a top-three finish at the trials to clinch a spot on the London-bound squad.

Rachel Seaman of Peterborough, Ont., and Inaki Gomez of Vancouver were among other athletes who clinched their spots Saturday, Seaman in the women's 10,000-metre racewalk, Inaki in the men's racewalk.

Alex Genest of Lac-aux-Sables, Que., won the men's 3,000-metre steeplechase to earn his berth in London, while hammer throwers Heather Steacy of Lethbridge, Alta., and Sultana Frizell of Perth, Ont., finished 1-2 to clinch their spots on the squad.

-Lori Ewing, Canadian Press

Source: www.canada.com

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