Story of Olympics

The 2012 Olympics can be as successful as those in Beijing, but he knows they are a very hard act to follow. The Times encapsulated that after the dazzling opening ceremony of the 2008 Games in the Bird's Nest Stadium with the headline Olympic Opening Ceremony spectacular sets the bar high for London 2012.

"We can't do what China has done at the Beijing Olympics. We'll do it in a different way," he told me after receiving the Olympic flag from Beijing in August 2008.

The Beijing Games provided a stage for China to present its emergence and an occasion to shake off "a hundred years of humiliation". Although the Chinese leaders said the Olympics should not be politicised, they constantly reminded the citizens it was "a dream of a century".

A whole nation was mobilised. There were 100,000 Olympic volunteers with another one million community volunteers in Beijing. Polluting factories were either forced to close or relocated, and cars were banned from the roads each day, alternating between those with number plates ending in an odd digit and those ending in an even one.

The 17-day event was well-organised but its success came at a very high price. Unconfirmed total spending on the games amounted to $40 billion, making it the most expensive Olympics.

And residents in Beijing and other parts of China complained about the sacrifices.

Johnson vowed to make the Games a more enjoyable experience, involving more people coming out on to the streets to celebrate.

Indeed, it is quite a different approach, just like Britain's free-market economy compared to China's state capitalism. It will be interesting to observe which one performs better in the Olympic arena. Of course, there are similarities between the two Games.

Both countries were in a tough environment in the lead up. For Beijing, it was an emotional and political experience. The Sichuan earthquake three months before the opening galvanised the nation to work together. And the torch relay was disrupted by protests against China's human rights.

London was not lucky. The global financial crisis hit hard almost immediately after Johnson took over the Olympic flag. The economic slump put further strain on the 2012 Olympics budget. Luckily, the Olympic Delivery Authority did not buckle under the pressure, with the construction project nearly 80% finished.

The Beijing Olympics are a fond memory for Team GB as they finished fourth in the medals table with 19 golds, the best haul in a century. The Beijing Olympics also witnessed extraordinary sporting feats.

They were illuminated by some extraordinary sporting feats. Swimmer Michael Phelps claimed the most gold medals in one Olympics by winning eight events and Usain Bolt broke the 100m and 200m sprint world records, securing their titles as the world's fastest men "in water and on earth".


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