A mixture of exhilaration and tension fills the air as the best of worlds’ athletes, make final preparations for the much anticipated Beijing Olympic Games.
The countdown is on! With three weeks left to go, all eyes are on China to witness the much vaunted Games that start in August.
It is likely to be a tense situation with the spirit of ‘sports-person ship’ on trial as athletes from all over the world flex their muscles to make history.
The slogan of the 2008 Games, “One World One Dream” was chosen during a grand ceremony on the 26th of June this year. After a grueling world-wide solicitation period which saw 210,000 contributions made towards the theme.
The Olympic torch which was lit on the 24th of March, will complete the worldwide Olympic torch relay, at its final destination venue of the Olympic games in the Beijing National Stadium.
Lighting of the flame symbolizes not just the spirit of good-will expected to prevail over the days; but lights a ‘flame for success’ in each one of them.
The Olympic games tradition is deeply entrenched in legendary Greek mythology with the torch lighting being derived from ancient Greek commemoration of stealing of fire by Prometheus from the Greek god Zeus.
The Olympic torch relay was reintroduced during the 1928 summer Olympics in Amsterdam. Though the very first Olympic games to be recorded were held in Olympia, Greece in 776 BC and celebrated until 393 AD.
After a long absence of the Olympics, in 1883 a Greek poet and newspaper editor in his poem; ‘Dialogue of the dead’ sought to revive its spirit.
But it wasn’t until after the international Olympic Committee [IOC] was founded in 1894 that the games resurfaced in 1896 in Athens, Greece.
The most recent were in 2006 in Turin, Italy, continuing the spirit of sport as a uniting force not just of the many nations involved, but their cultures, religions and political beliefs too.
A spirit quickly dampened by the Tibet controversy. The announcement that China would be the host country, sparked pro-Tibet and anti-China protests world-wide that even degenerated into loss of life.
The seemingly overwhelming criticism questioned China’s moral eligibility to host the prestigious games citing human rights violations.
Condemnation further boosted, during America’s presidential primaries when the democratic candidates, Senators Barak Obama and Hilary Clinton both urged President George Bush to boycott the opening ceremony, of the Olympic games- lighting of the Olympic torch in Greece - the American President attended.
The worldwide condemnations also cited China’s human rights record on the genocide in Sudan, support to regimes in Zimbabwe and Myanmar in Burma. Chinese overseas also joined the protests.
Right from the start of its journey, the Olympic torch relay was intercepted by violent protestors who forced a change of its intended course, to a point of Chinese officials in Charge of the torch having to extinguish the flame several times to avoid violent pursuers.
In Europe the disruptions were even more aggressive with pro-Tibet protestors along the mapped routes lay in wait to block its passage.
CNN reported that, “ Anti-Chinese protesters interrupted the relay in London and Paris. Police already have arrested protesters in the torch’s next destination -- San Francisco.”
Initially, San Francisco in America was preferred because of its large Afro-American population with the torch scheduled to pass through, Chinatown but was later avoided as protests intensified.
“Speaking to the Sacramento Press Club on Tuesday, the mayor said city officials were still negotiating the eight-mile route with police and the International Olympic Committee. He said it would be made public before the April 9 relay.
The discussions have already resulted in certain stops being eliminated and the opening and closing ceremonies being shortened,” reported Fox news.
The only stop for the Olympic torch in Africa was in Tanzania. Despite tabloid reports of low risks, citing no signs of pro-Tibet protests and tight security in place, the distance supposed to be covered by the torch was cut short.
“The original 25 kilometer torch relay was shrunk to a two-hour five kilometer trail in the streets of the Tanzanian commercial capital,” reported ABC, an American news website.
With all the odds stacked against it the Chinese torch relay even ascended to the top of the highest mountain in the world- Mountain Everest.
On July 8th 2008, the Olympic torch made its last stop in Cyprus. It will be returned to its homeland Greece. But back home, China is laboring on a strategy to counter the negative image portrayed by protestors.
The country with the highest population in the world has turned a deaf ear to criticisms as it focuses on effecting its preparations for the much anticipated Olympic games.
News Desk, a Chinese news website revealed that a record expenditure of 400billion Yuan, equivalent to $58billion was to be spent on the preparation process.
A total of 37 stadiums and sports halls are expected to be used during the event. Twelve of these had to be constructed in 2007- a length of one year.
Besides the sports facilities, the transport system has been adapted to cope with the huge number of visitors estimated to swarm the country for the Olympics.
China has also introduced behavioral courses to equip its multitudes with the proper etiquette, a bid to boost its image for the arriving foreigners.
Unlike other Olympic games in the past, this has been rated the most controversial. But as the relay winds up, the controversy is expected to die down.
China has defied international protestations, in spite of further terrorist threats she is proceeding as if all is well. To perfect the event, China the hosts have injected an estimated 400billion Yuan, equivalent to $58billion, in the final preparations.
Despite international condemnation, there is heavy deployment of Chinese law enforcers in key local areas of resistance. A clear signal of China’s intention to achieve uninterrupted Olympic games in August.
In a sign of serious business China, has also designated protest zones in three Beijing parks, Fengtai, Haidian and Chaoyang, - those who want to vent their anger on any issue, will go to these ‘pens’ but not disturb the games.
So, get ready to see breathtaking energy fits by the most gifted sportspersons from all corners of the planet battling it out to make history.
Will it perhaps be any of Rwanda’s four athletes including two runners (Dieudonne Disi, 10.000m and Epiphanie Nyirabarame, marathon) and two swimmers (Pamela Girimbabazi and Jackson Niyomugabo)? We wait to see.