China puts on a fabulous show

2008-08-08 00:00

China’s President Hu Jintao opened the 29th Olympic Games in spectacular firework-initiated splendour of colour, drums, music and lighting representing the welcoming of friends from around the world, before the two-hour parade of athletes.

The opening ceremony commenced at eight minutes past eight on the eighth day of the eighth month of the eighth year of the new millennium, considered to be an extremely lucky combination in China

Twenty-nine massive firework-generated footsteps strode up Beijing’s central axis from Tiananmen Square to be welcomed at the bulging Bird’s Nest stadium, where the enthralled 91 000-strong audience were taken on a journey of China’s history, culture and dynasties, which culminated with gymnast Li Ning, a triple gold medallist in the 1984 Los Angeles games, lighting the Olympic flame, which will burn until the closing ceremony on August 24.

Natalie du Toit, the first athlete ever to compete in both the Olympics and Paralympics, led Team South Africa into the arena to join athletes from the 205 countries that are competing in the games.

“Having dreamed of going to the Olympics since I was six, this is a dream come true,” said Du Toit, falling naturally into the ‘One World, One Dream’ Games theme, epitomised by the actors running round the 18-metre-diameter globe to the melodic You and Me theme song.

Aside from Du Toit, the majority of South Africa’s swimmers, fencers, road cyclists and rowers opted to miss the opening ceremony in preparation for their first day of competition.

Sabre-wielding Adele du Plooy will be the first to take SA colours into competition, but she, Elivira Wood and Jyoti Chetty face considerably higher-ranked opposition in the individual event and will do well to make the second round.

David George, Robbie Hunter and John Augustyn line up in central Beijing for the 245,4-km road cycle, in which the trio should make a good showing, although the tipsters have their money split between twice World Champion and defending Olympic champion Paulo Bettini, and the Spanish duo of Alejandro Valverde and Samuel Sanchez.

“It doesn’t matter how much you’ve trained: some days it can be your day, others the legs don’t work. It will all depend which set of legs I take out on the morning. I think it’s going to be the same for John-Lee; he will either be brilliant or a damp squib,” said David George. One thing favouring Augustyn is Robbie Hunter’s website commitment to work for the rising star.

Ramon di Clemente and Shaun Keeling commence their campaign for a medal in the men’s pair at the Shunyi Olympic rowing centre. The duo have been drawn alongside champions Australia in their first heat, which also includes Britain, Germany and Denmark. They should get through the heat.

The swimming squad have had two opportunities to try out the Water Cube aquatics centre, with its translucent, colour-changing walls. “It has clearly been built for fast swimming; the guys have found it extremely motivating to swim in the pool,” said team manager Rushdee Warley.

Durban’s young Riaan Schoeman, with the seventh fastest qualifying time, will initiate the SA competition in the 400 m individual medley at 12.33 pm (SA time). He will be hoping to be on form to make Sunday’s final, but it may be a stretch too far.

Having broken the African record qualification, Lize-Mari Retief should do well in the 100 m butterfly and Jean Basson will get a taste of competition in the 400 m freestyle before lining up for his more preferred 200 m distance on Sunday

Cameron van der Burgh, who earned bronze over the 50 m distance at World Championships, is the strongest medal contender on the initial day of competition. He competes in the 100 m breaststroke for the Olympics.

The day will be rounded off by the women’s 4x100 m freestyle combination of Mandy Loots, Kathryn Meaklim, Wendy Trott and Durban’s Melisa Corfe.

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