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The Bullet and the Bolt
  Written By:  Hay, Al Jazeera sports correspondent in Beijing
  Article Date:
August 25, 2008 


I have some questions to throw out there: some things to ponder after the games of the 29th Olympiad. Games that were in so many ways, unlike anything we'd seen before.

In week one, when the swimming competition was being held, the Beijing Olympics were in danger of becoming a one man show. American Michael Phelps swept aside his opposition and historic records, on his way to winning eight gold medals.

I have a strange feeling about what Phelps has achieved. I am of course in awe and feel very lucky to have witnessed a true champion create history.

But at the same time I have a slight hollow feeling about the future. Where does swimming go now? Some of the records broken in the pool were obliterated by such large margins that I wonder what the next step will be. How low can they go?

It is simply not physically possible that records will continue to be slashed by such margins. So does that mean that the next major swim meet will be a little deflating because we'll all be expecting the same sort of entertainment we saw in the Water Cube of Beijing?

To make things interesting next time, maybe swimming officials should ban the use of the controversial Speedo swim suit, which many believe has been the major reason behind the quick times. At least if they went back to swimming in the bare essentials, we'd know how quick today's swimmers are compared with those in years gone by.

I believe Phelps would still have won his eight gold medals, but I doubt he would have smashed so many world records.

More to achieve

By having doubts about the future, maybe I'm underestimating the man himself. Maybe Michael Phelps will keep us entertained for many years to come, because as he says, he still has some times he wants to achieve.

What I like about the man they call the Baltimore Bullet, is his attitude. He seems to enjoy every moment of his life and doesn't take things too seriously. These are traits he shares with the other star of Beijing, Usain Bolt.

For me, the Jamaican's achievements on the track were on a par with what Phelps achieved in the pool. To win three sprint gold medals in world record time is a stunning feat. And, like Phelps, it was how Bolt won that was so impressive.

To witness the ease with which he swept aside the field in the 100 metres final, and still have time to celebrate before the finish line, and post a world record along the way, was something I will never forget.

He won the 200m final with similar ease. But had to push all the way to break Michael Johnson's 12 year old world record.

Not only did it tell me how good Bolt is, but also how good Johnson was. His name is also now mentioned alongside the great Carl Lewis, who was the last person to win the 100 and 200 in the same Olympics, back in 1984.

Unlike swimming, I'm excited about the future of sprinting. As long as Bolt has the desire, I have no doubt he'll continue to lower world marks. Take the 100 final for example, if it wasn't for his pre-tape celebration, I suspect he could have posted a time closer to 9.60.

Assessing China 

It was a reasonably safe bet to predict prior to the games that Phelps and Bolt would create history. But now it's confession time.

I predicted that China would not top the medal table and would be beaten by the USA. It's seems incomprehensible to say this, but I underestimated the Chinese.

In many sports, I thought they would crumble under the huge pressure of their stated target of finishing on top of the heap. Especially when you consider what these games meant to the people of China.

This was their chance to show the world what they could achieve, on and off the sporting field.

But on it, they have blown me away and, quite clearly, the opposition too. It seemed every time I was at a venue, or every time I turned the television on, a Chinese athlete was in contention.

From the shooting on day one, to the boxing on day 16, China was competing, and winning. Whatever systematic training they've done in the seven years since being awarded the Olympics, it has worked.

Whether it continues to work is another story. Can they continue their domination? Will their athletes be able to perform at the same level, away from home in four years?

The daunting prospect for their opponents is that Team China has room for improvement. They managed to top the table in Beijing, without winning a single athletics gold medal, and just one in swimming.

I'd imagine there are some rather large resources being pushed in those directions as we speak.

One thing is for sure, I'm not going to doubt China's ability again.

Hard to top

On the face of it, these games were run exceptionally well. There was plenty of Chinese efficiency on display and the stadiums they built will be hard for anyone else to top.

In fact the facilities were so outstanding, the organisers of the London Olympics have already said they won't try to match the scale of their predecessors, but will focus on leaving a lasting legacy for the community. Sounds a bit boring really!

Yes, there were some issues in Beijing. Gaining access to some venues took way too long, as they didn't open the gates early enough. And, something very close to my heart, the catering in the venues was appallingly bad.

These problems though aren't enough to taint the memory.

What is, however, is atmosphere. And I'm talking about the atmosphere on the streets. It was partly the fault of the Chinese government, and partly the fault of the city itself.

China's leaders and the games organisers were so desperate to make an impression, that they cleared out the people who make a living on the streets by selling everything from Chairman Mao lighters to pirated DVDs.

Sadly, in some of the night life areas of Beijing, that meant that some of the colour was also cleared out.

In Athens and Sydney, it was all about the Olympics. Everywhere you looked, you were reminded of where you were and why you were there. There was colour and atmosphere everywhere. There were people spilling onto the streets, watching the sport unfold on big screens.

I haven't felt the same about Beijing. But perhaps that is being a bit unfair, because this city is so vast, with no real central focal point. So generating any sort of buzz was always going to be difficult.

Overall though, Beijing must be given a big pass mark. I don't think they were the greatest Olympics, but the Chinese have set the standard in so many areas. Most importantly, on the medal table.



Source: Al Jazeera