When I worked on the launch of a new travel trade magazine in 2006 one of the major discussions between the writers and editors was the choice of cover story for the first edition.
As we were based in Dubai we had thought of going with the boom of the United Arab Emirates, but, hey, that would have been the easy option. We also thought ‘what about India? Russia? Brazil?’, they all could have made fantastic cover stories, but we were looking for something different.
What we really wanted to focus on was a location on the verge of making a huge impression, not just in the travel trade but the world in general.
There was only one choice: China. And the subject we were going to focus on was the 2008 summer Olympic Games in Beijing and how sports tourism was emerging as a major niche in the global travel industry.
The projects in Beijing for the 2008 Games were staggering. The plans for sporting facilities such as the ‘Bird’s Nest’ Beijing National Stadium and Aquatic Centre were so impressive that some figures in the sports world were doubting if they would ever come to fruition.
It wasn’t just the sporting facilities that made the world open their eyes to the grand plans of Beijing. The Games also acted as a catalyst to an increase in new hotels, transport upgrades and the construction of the Norman Foster-designed terminal at Beijing International Airport.
Beijing was preparing to welcome the world and the Chinese wanted to do in style.
It’s fair to say that my interest in Beijing started when I wrote that cover story for the magazine launch. The more I read about the plans for 2008 the more I had to be there in person.
So you can imagine how gutted I was when I ended up watching the 2008 Olympics at home on television. Not only did the Games mark Beijing’s entrance as a major sports destination but the world-record breaking performances of Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt will go down in sporting history as one of the top moments of all time. I still can’t believe after all the research, reading and writing I did about Beijing that I did not make it to the Games.
I may have been three years too late but I finally got to see Beijing’s Olympic Green and stadiums during my visit in August 2011. (But let’s be honest the other sprinters must have also felt three years behind Bolt in that unforgettable 100m final…)
Making my way on Subway Line 8 I must admit that I was excited to finally see the Bird’s Nest stadium with my own eyes. When getting out at the Olympic Sports Center station you immediately appreciated the size of the Olympic Green area. Not only will you find the National Stadium and Aquatic Centre but the Green is also home to the following facilities in its huge space:
- The Beijing National Indoor Stadium
- Olympic Green Convention Center
- Olympic Green Hockey Field
- Olympic Green Archery Field
- Olympic Green Tennis Center
- Olympic Village
- Ling Long Pagoda
- Olympic flame
From the Olympic Sports Center station exit you will see the Bird’s Nest to your right and the blue Aquatic Centre on your left. It is only when you get closer that the size of the 91,000-seat Bird’s Nest becomes evident.
The big question for me is how did they complete that structure? When I first saw the amazing computer-generated renderings of the stadium back in 2006 it was difficult to imagine what it would actually finish like.
I will tell you now, it was exactly the same as the computer graphics – if not better. The design of that stadium is just so different that it must surely rank among the best in the world.
Despite three years passing since the Games took place the Olympic Green was still very busy with tourists and locals when we visited on a midweek day during the afternoon. The picture opportunities obviously attract most visitors but what was also surprising were the amount of food stalls inside a big marquee literally outside the stadium.
I know that you can’t compare Beijing’s sporting stadia to its heritage sites and cultural offerings, but as a modern symbol the Bird’s Nest stadium is definitely a huge landmark for the Chinese capital.