How China conquered the Olympics

Sami Sillanpää in Beijing

Years of work, vast expenditure running to more than 30 billion euros, and enough volunteers to populate a small European country. After all this, the 29th Summer Olympics in Beijing were pretty much what they were expected to be: grandiose, controlled, impressive, and silky-smooth in operation.

Beijing pledged to host an excellent set of competitions, and they delivered on the promise. The arrangements never missed a beat, the venues were first-class, and the officials and the army of volunteers were smiling and friendly.

The enthusiasm of the Chinese for the games and their pride in hosting them was apparent in everything. Beijing also succeeded at the eleventh hour in getting its air-pollution problems down, at least for the duration of the games, to a level that meant they were not a health-risk or a hindrance to the athletes. The food was safe, as promised.There were no terrorist incidents.

When applying to host the Olympics, Beijing promised other things besides. The promise that foreign media would have complete freedom to work during the games was not met. Outside of the Olympic venues, journalists were assaulted, tailed wherever they went, and harassed. China also promised that the Olympics would help in increasing respect for human rights in the country.

Before and during the games, civil activists were imprisoned, arrested, and kept under close surveillance.
Foreign protesters were deported from the country.These events do not bring any honour on the games organisers, nor on the heads of the International Olympic Committee.

In the sports arenas, the Chinese athletes were beyond awesome. The Chinese media calculated mainly only the gold medals. There were plenty of them for the host nation - 51 in all. Measured by gold medals, China topped the podium as the world's best sporting country, even if the United States collected more medals in total.

China as a society has already established itself as a major global economic power, and now it is on top in the physical contest, too.

"To the Chinese, this demonstrates that China is a superpower, and deserves the world's respect", says researcher Xu Guoji, who has written a book on China's sporting history, entitled Olympic Dreams.

No superpower in the world has been viewed dispassionately and without controversy. China need not be the exception. It is worth remembering that at one time the rest of the world tried to force China to open up. Now China did so voluntarily.

With all its wonders and its faults, China is here to stay, and it is going to change the world as we know it.
And on the sports fields, too, it would be as well to prepare for the fact that we shall be seeing a great deal more of the world's largest nation.

China isn't done winning yet.

* Sami Sillanpää writes for Finland's helsingin Sanomat.