China’s capital Beijing hosted a truly spectacular Olympic Games in 2008. For the world’s most populous nation it was their first time hosting and an outstanding success.
IOC President Jacques Rogge closed the Games by saying, “through these Games, the world has learned more about China, and China more about the world…. These were truly exceptional Games!”
The Chinese excelled both on and off the sporting arena. The 37 venues, Olympic Village and thousands of friendly volunteers will be talked about for years to come.
China’s athletes won a staggering 51 gold medals, 15 more than the United States. The US won 110 medals in total compared with China’s 100. Russia was the third best nation, Great Britain produced their best result in a century to finish fourth with 19 gold. Germany was fifth with 16 gold and Australia was sixth with a tremendous 14 gold, 15 silver and 17 bronze.
During the Games countdown there was much debate and protest around the world regarding China’s human rights record, the pollution in Beijing and other political issues. However once the flame was lit in the Bird's Nest on the 8th of August and the blue sky appeared the attention turned to the 10,708 athletes from a record 204 National Olympic Committees.
The star of the Games was American superfish Michael Phelps who won a record eight gold medals in the Water Cube, breaking seven world records in the process. The disappointment of the Games was Chinese hurdler Liu Xiang who came in as the defending champion but an achilles injury forced him out before the first hurdle.
China’s NBA basketball superstar Yao Ming was another Games drawcard but his team were no match for the US ‘redeem team’ who made up for their disappointing showing at Athens 2004.
The equestrian competition was held in Hong Kong, the sailing events in the seaside city of Qingdao some 550 kilometres from Beijing and football matches were held in Beijing and surrounding provinces.
Both the Opening and Closing Ceremonies were spectacular with the 91,000 spectators in the Bird's Nest and the billions of TV viewers in awe at the spectacle.
The flame was lit by legendary Chinese gymnast Li Ning, who was hoisted high into the air to "run" along the roof's edge. When he reached the cauldron that had unfurled during the athlete's march through the stadium, a burst of flame lit up the sky.
The Ceremony ended with another magnificent fireworks display staged by a total of 600 engineers from hundreds of locations around the city, some as far away as the Great Wall of China.
Australia was represented by 435 athletes and 318 support staff across 26 sports in Beijing. They confirmed Australia’s position as an Olympic superpower finishing sixth on the medal tally with 14 gold, 15 silver and 17 bronze. In total 124 athletes won medals.