One Moment in Time

The 2008 Beijing Olympic Games

Someone once said that a movie endowed with five unforgettable scenes is a classic. As the most anticipated event of 2008, the Beijing Olympic Games captivated the world with many moving and magical moments. Each second was a motion picture packed with life and passion. Thus, I had a hard time figuring out where to start after my friends asked me to write an article about this monumental event.

From any vantage point, China put forth a tremendous effort in hosting this Olympic Games, as judged by the grand stadiums, the professional organizations, and the tens of thousands of enthusiastic volunteers. World records and Olympic records were shattered one after another, challenging the physical limits of the human body. As a hero who perfectly embodied the Olympic and American spirit, Michael Phelps reached a pinnacle moment by earning eight gold medals in a single Olympics. Then, like a comet, Usain Bolt blazed through the 100m and 200m sprints — making him an Olympic phenomenon overnight. The astonishing athletes occupied the headlines of the major media outlets throughout the Games, and their marks will forever be etched in the history of the Olympic movement.

Speaking of history, who was not mesmerized by Zhang Yimou’s cinematic rendition of China’s evolution and essence since ancient times? Who was not awestruck by the sheer magnificence of the performances made possible by the thousands of actors moving in surreal synchronization? Aside from the splendid opening night, every visitor to China must be impressed by the beauty and vitality of its capital, Beijing, a city that integrates both modern styles and ancient tastes. When 8/8/08 finally dawned upon Beijing, concerns about air pollution and sandstorm suddenly slipped away from people’s minds. Instead, everyone was waiting to be wowed by the achievements and surprises that China promised after years of dedication and preparation. With 51 Gold out of 100 medals won, China went beyond the most optimistic prediction and far exceeded its 32-Gold-medal record set in Athens.

As one of the most rapidly growing countries, China never ceases to embrace the outside world and improve itself along the way. For those who only learned of China from the media, this Olympic Games provided a perfect chance for them to gain first-hand insight into the heart of the country. Hosting the Olympic Games will help the citizens of other nations to learn more about the real China and reduce the barriers between them. Only with better understanding can all countries cooperate together to solve the important problems facing the world. And only with lasting friendships and solidarity can the mission of the modern international Olympic movement become a reality.

Besides the sports and global relations issues, how will the 2008 Olympic Games affect the common people in China? For a country still underdeveloped in many regions and recovering from the most disastrous earthquake in decades, in retrospect, was it wise for the nation to expend such effort — in wealth and manpower — to host this two-week event? Throughout the last few weeks, these questions have been discussed on various online forums and even during my lunch chatting with others. For the Games itself, the budget of roughly 2.2 billion US dollars (49% covered by the International Olympic Committee) will not register as a deficit according to the official news and can be balanced by related sales such as the broadcasting rights. The additional cost to improve the Beijing’s transportation system and to reduce the air pollution is not only important for the Games but will also be beneficial for the long-term development of the city, whose economy and population keep increasing through the years. The Olympics simply forces the government to solve these inevitable problems in a more timely fashion.

This time, the China Olympic Committee emphasized a unique concept called the “Green Olympics.” Environmental and energy saving issues were taken very seriously during the entire construction process. In the last two decades, the rapid economic growth in China was heavily indebted to the sacrifice of the environment. As industrial pollution began to significantly affect the everyday life quality in some regions, a concept called “Continuable Development” was set in place in past years. However, this concept was lacking in action, especially when it conflicted with the profits of local industry. Some may argue about the effectiveness of using the Olympics as a platform to advertise scrutiny of environmental quality. However, it strongly demonstrates the concern and dedication of China’s government to solving this urgent problem. The successful experiences of the green improvements could be transferred to other large cities such as Shanghai and Guangzhou that also suffer from environmental problems. Regarding energy efficiency, numerous new technologies were developed to reduce the operating cost of the modern stadiums. For example, air conditioning load can be significantly reduced by using phase change materials in floor tiles that can store extra heat and minimize the fluctuation in indoor temperature during the day. These research projects started even earlier than the MIT energy initiative and are now ready to be commercialized and compensate for the rapidly growing energy consumption in China.

For one moment in time, China realized its dream to embrace the world in its arms. As the Olympic Games come to a close, everything will return to normal in the nation — but the memories will live on. I am sure that many of you will never forget about some of the exciting moments in Beijing Olympics. The spirits and triumphs of the athletes will always encourage us to push our own limits in the things we are doing. Too bad we have to wait another four years until the London Olympics!

Qing Hao is a graduate student in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and wrote this column on behalf of the MIT Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA).