The test of the Games

Four years after the «unique» Olympic Games staged by Athens, Beijing is gearing up for its own magical display of noble competition, skill and technique. Comparing the great country of China to Greece seems unfair, but Greece has nothing to envy. Other that the official praise of the International Olympic Committee, the real stamp of success came from the thousands of athletes and journalists that were in Athens in the summer of 2004. They left Athens with the best of impressions, and have served as worthy ambassadors ever since. Greece put together a true celebration of sportsmanship that was free of political rivalries. Despite the pressure the country was under to meet deadlines and stage secure Games, it rose to the challenge. The only hiccups were relatively empty stadiums on the first few days and the notorious Kenteris-Thanou fiasco, which could easily have been avoided. Greece earned kudos and this was not just because it succeeded in highlighting the Games’ glorious past, but also because it presented itself as a modern republic, a member of the European family, a country that may have many shortcomings but is making an effort at modernization without infringing upon the basic civil liberties of its people. Just like every other host of the Games, so China is being put to the test. It is certain that tomorrow’s opening ceremony will be exquisite, and the Games special. Sports aficionados will enjoy great battles, big records and touching moments when athletes challenge human boundaries. At the same time, we will be reminded that China is the third-largest economy in the world today, and hopes to climb to second place past Japan within the next seven years. The commercial giant of the East is in transition. It has an impressive future ahead of it, but also faces many challenges. It is now being invited to pair economic development with democratization, and construction and industrial boom with the protection of the environment.