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Beijing 2008 Olympics, Open Features: The Olympics - A Report From Our Man At The Games

Open Writing will bring you reports from the Beijing Olympics, which get under way within the hour.

Journalist Tony Bugby is in the Chinese capital, there to report on the world's greatest sporting feast.

Tony is covering his fifth Olympics. "I still find the Olympics as spell-binding as I did in 1992 when making my debut in Barcelona.''

Here is his first report from Beijing.

Athletes, officials and we media are commonly known as members of the ‘Olympic Family.’

And with around 200 nations taking part in the world’s largest sporting spectacle, it is a gathering no other event can even come close to rivalling.

It is also a unique opportunity to embrace other cultures and customs and share experiences which could not be more contrasting.

And while the world’s super powers – namely America and hosts China – will be slugging it out toe to toe to see which amasses most medals, the beauty of the Olympics is that it is a truly global event.

Whereas football’s World Cup is only for the elite teams from the various continents, the Olympics hosts the tiniest nations, the likes of the Maldives and Seychelles who would never normally get an opportunity to compete against the world’s elite sportsmen and women.

This is my fifth Olympics and I still find the Olympics as entrancing and spell-binding as I did in 1992 when making my debut in Barcelona, the Catalan capital.

The Olympics are the pinnacle of excellence in an amazing 28 sports and 38 disciplines, the majority of which are staged in one city.

Obviously the equestrian events have had to be staged in Hong Kong, the football throughout South-East China while the sailing obviously required a coastal stretch a two-hour flight away at Qingdao.

Apart from the chance to see so many world-class sports in one venue over a 16-day period, I particularly enjoy having the opportunity to converse with visitors from other nations whether athletes, officials, volunteers or journalistic colleagues to gain a glimpse into their lives.

And before I had even stepped on to Chinese territory, my education of Africa had been transformed after a series of chance encounters.

On the flight from Manchester to Dubai, the first leg of a marathon journey in itself, I was convinced Jack Warner, the chief of CONCACAF and one of the world’s most powerful football administrators, was a passenger.

It was only on the stopover in the United Arab Emirates that I could not contain my curiosity and I asked him whether he was ‘Mr Warner.’

It wasn’t but it proved the catalyst for an engaging conversation with Abdouliem Dandehnjie, president of the Olympic Committee of Gambia.

It was an opportunity to learn about that nation’s sporting roots in the former British colony – Abdouliem had played football and cricket for his country and back in the 1970s captained the national cricket team against a visiting MCC team.

And cricket in those days was a popular pastime as Gambia enjoyed regular international fixtures against three of its neighbours in a mini tournament.

While boxing represents the best opportunity of a Gambian medal in Beijing, Abdouliem spoke about the country’s two most popular sports – football and wrestling.

Gambia is not yet a major footballing power but, he says, they are an emerging force having recently excelled at the world under-17 championships in Peru. And many players are finding a route overseas and while, not at big European clubs, they are still helping raise the profile of the sport.

Wrestling, explained Abdouliem, is Gambia’s most popular sport and one he says is practiced in every village.

Abdouliem also has an affinity with Manchester stemming from the Commonwealth Games in 2002, so much so he swapped a second home in London for one 200 miles north where he spends three months each year.

Dubai, an airport hub for the Middle East, proved a converging point for athletes and officials from many of the African countries.

I learned about Swaziland’s sporting traditions from a passenger sat beside me – she was a journalist, her husband a team official.

Top Kenyan athletes Nicholas Kemboi and Pamela Jelimo were sat a few rows back in economy class, no cosseting in first class for the pair who are genuine medal prospects.

And so to Beijing an initial impressions of the hosts to the 27th Games of the modern era which began in 1896 in Athens, the birthplace of the ancient Olympics.

You cannot fault the Chinese for their warmth and friendliness as well as the efficiency of their administration. It is just a pity they have no control of the weather with the smog returning with vengeance this week.

Within one hour of my Boeing 777-200LR grinding to a halt at Beijing International Airport, I had cleared immigration, the Olympic accreditation process, baggage reclaim and I was on a bus heading for my base at the Tu Ha Hotel.

That is efficiency down to a ‘t’ and far removed from Atlanta in 1996 when it almost took as long to get from the airport to my accommodation as flying the Atlantic. And yes those stories about bus drivers, who had been brought to Georgia from throughout the United States, having trouble finding their bearings are absolutely true as I witnessed immediately after arriving.

BOCOG, the organising committee for Beijing, cannot be criticised as buses I have used so far have run to the second. Indeed, I heard of one arriving five minutes late and the apologies were such that you would have thought it had been a case of hours rather than minutes.

The only minor irritation is the blessed loops which buses take to the various venues so what ought to be a simple journey can take two or three times what it would be had it gone as the crow flies. They have been devised to make the transport system be more viable and manageable to operate.

Security is tight and a necessary evil in the unstable and turbulent world in which we live. It is stringent, but it is helped that I am able to go through a scanner as I leave the hotel which saves having to queue to enter the Olympic site.

The Far East media are also far more obtrusive and in your faces than I ever imagined. On a number of occasions I have had a television camera and microphone thrust in front of me and my opinion sought without the courtesy of an initial approach.

And rather like the much-criticised and much-maligned section of the British press, it has been journalists focusing on the negative aspects such as queuing for security checks and also the political tension between China and Macau.

I am aware there are deep-seated problems but, as I told them, I am no expert and certainly have no authority to comment on them.

Let’s hope these problems are set aside and don’t taint the Games and they are remembered for their sporting excellence because this is, after all, the greatest show on earth.

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