Beijing perspective: Julian Guyer

AFP’s JULIAN GUYER had never covered an Olympic Games before Beijing. Here, he offers his impressions of the 2008 Games and thoughts for 2012

When my sports editor asked me to be on the desk at the Beijing Olympics, I suspected this was a form of revenge on the part of my colleagues. Most of the time they have the misfortune to sub-edit my copy, so the appeal of a role-reversal wasn’t difficult to deduce.

This was my first Olympics. Everyone warned me it was the toughest sporting event of the lot and, speaking as someone who covered the whole of last year’s Cricket World Cup from start to finish, they were right.

The friendliness of the volunteers could not be faulted but their eagerness to please, undoubtedly a reflection of the authorities’ wish to show China in the best possible light, did sometimes reach ludicrous lengths.

For example, there seemed to be several “greeters” permanently posted outside the toilets at the MPC. This was frankly more than a little disconcerting. Why were they there exactly and why did they think any of us would be offended if they weren’t?

Enveloped in the superbly organised “bubble” that meant only one security check a day, whether you were going to the MPC or a competition venue, it was hard to get a sense of Beijing.

But the sheer scale of Chinese bureaucracy ran counter to any notion of spontaneous fun. And it is here where London might just have the edge. Otherwise it is hard to see how, from an organisational point of view, 2012 can top 2008.

Eventually, my employer took pity on me and, in the equivalent of a prisoner being given time off for good behaviour, I was “released” to cover the modern pentathlon and the women’s volleyball final. The former drew pitying looks, the second somewhat envious glances for reasons which I can’t begin to imagine.

My final duty was to cover the closing ceremony. It is to be hoped, and this is not a party-political point, that the sight of Boris Johnson with his hands in his pockets doesn’t somehow become a metaphor for the London Olympics.

London’s Games undoubtedly have the capacity to be magnificent, the athletes should see to that, although it may be asking a bit much for something on the scale of Phelps and Bolt.

But not even the success of the British team in Beijing is going to put an end to questions over the cost of the 2012 Games and fears the enduring legacy for London will be white elephants rather than world records.

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