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Q&A: Countdown To Beijing Olympics

News of terrorist attacks on top of political unrest and some protests — those are all stories the Chinese government wants to avoid now, with the Olympic opening ceremonies on Friday.

NPR's Tom Goldman is in Beijing to cover the games, and talks with Renee Montagne about how preparations are going.

Montagne: How does the city look?


Goldman: Looks pretty good, actually. You know, preparation was never an issue with these games, as opposed to past Olympics. I visited some of the major venues: the National Stadium, which is called the Bird's Nest, and the swimming arena, called the Water Cube. They look great. All the construction is done. Many parts of Beijing are spiffed up. There's less spit on the sidewalks — no spitting is one of the etiquette directives from on high. But the process of beautification isn't always pretty: There have been many residents displaced by the new development for the Olympics.

So, how is the mood, then? I would imagine people are pretty excited there, although there is this slightly dark side to it.

Yeah, they are. It's hard to gauge a consensus in a country of 1.3 billion, but at least in Beijing you do sense enthusiasm, you sense pride. One Olympics volunteer was quoted in a newspaper article. He said, "We were called the 'sick man of Asia.' Now we are strong and rich enough to hold such a major international event." And respect will be an important concept throughout the games. Many in China are worried that the thousands of journalists who've come here will focus only on the negative: the pollution, government corruption, oppression of dissidents, lack of press freedoms. But many Chinese worry that the Western, non-Chinese-speaking media will miss a lot of the good that's been going on.

OK, the positive. Let's focus on it: 15 seconds' worth of upcoming highlights.

Swimming starts this weekend. Michael Phelps will try to win a record eight gold medals. You've got table tennis; for the first time that'll take center stage at an Olympics. The biggest story in China is whether defending Olympic champion Liu Xiang can win the 110-meter hurdles again. His gold medal in Athens four years ago was the first track-and-field gold for a Chinese man. The hope of all of China is on his shoulders.


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