- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 28, 2006

BEIJING — In a northwestern suburb of China’s capital near a millennia-old tomb, men in heavy coats and hard hats welded together a metal frame last month — the skeleton of the site of the 2008 Summer Games speed cycling races.

Giant characters mounted to the Laoshan Velodrome urged workers to ensure “safety, quality and timeliness.”

For Beijing, timeliness is key. Anxious to avoid the kinds of delays that plagued preparations for the 2004 Athens Games, officials have undertaken a massive construction campaign and promise to finish well before the start of the Games on Aug. 8, 2008.

“Our construction for all of the venues is very much on target,” said Sun Weide, a deputy director of the Beijing Organizing Committee. “We are quite confident that everything will be completed by 2007 in time for test events.”

In a morale-building campaign, China’s state-run newspapers have heralded the Winter Games in Turin as a signpost for the 2008 Olympics.

“After the Winter Olympics ends, the world will focus on Beijing,” the Beijing Daily newspaper said in a recent editorial. “As 2008 approaches, we must work to improve the city.”

Wang Zhanjun, president of a Beijing soccer fan club, said he had watched the Turin Games every night.

“While there’s a lot of pressure to prepare for the Games, the Chinese people have been dreaming of hosting the Olympics for many years,” he said.

If Beijing finishes on time, the effort itself will be Olympian. While the Greek government spent about $14billion to prepare for 2004 and London’s plan for the 2012 Games calls for $16billion in infrastructure investments, Beijing will spend some $38billion on Games-related sites and new urban infrastructure.

Most of the money will go toward renovating and building roads and railways and moving polluting factories out of the city before the Games begin. Scores of coal-burning heating plants are to be replaced with facilities that use natural gas; other additions include a 124-mile ring road around Beijing, a third airport terminal nearly doubling capacity to 60million annual visitors, and a series of subway and light rail lines.

“The Beijing Games will serve as a catalyst for the modernization of the capital,” Sun said.

The city and national government will also build or renovate 37 facilities for the 2008 Games. In Beijing, there will be 31 Olympic venues including 12 new structures and eight temporary facilities. Eleven existing venues will be upgraded before the Games, Sun said.

“The whole nation and government is unified behind the effort to prepare for the Games, so there’s not likely to be any construction delays,” said Dong Lu, a journalist with Beijing’s Sports Weekly magazine.

The 9,000-seat Beijing Shooting Range is one of the facilities under construction. Situated in a dingy neighborhood on the northern edge of the capital, the glass-and-steel building will hold most of the sport shooting events of the Games and is expected to be completed in March next year, engineering manager Ran Genming said.

Other Beijing venues will include a $385million stadium and a $124million aquatic center, both due to be finished next year.

Designed by German architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron, the 91,000-seat National Stadium has earned the moniker “Bird’s Nest” for its unusual design: a web of interlocking white steel beams.

The National Aquatic Center, designed by Sydney-based PTW Architects, will be covered with a transparent blue surface meant to mimic the geometry of water bubbles.

Beijing is also building a 4.4-square-mile zone, called Olympic Green, to house many of the facilities, an athletes’ village and a large park.

Other venues will be built and renovated across China. Tianjin, a city 75 miles south of Beijing, is constructing a 60,000-seat stadium that will be the site of 12 Olympic soccer matches. Construction was started Aug.28, 2003, a day after the city was announced as one of four soccer venues.

Shanghai will begin renovating a stadium this year and will be the site of the women’s World Cup finals there next summer.

China’s rapid urban growth and surging economy, however, have created challenges for the Games. Organizers are particularly concerned about improving the environment and reducing traffic congestion in Beijing before the summer of 2008, when between 500,000 and 800,000 foreigners are expected to visit China.

“There are still serious problems in balancing the need for economic and social development on one hand, and issues of population growth, resource conservation and environmental protection on the other,” Beijing Mayor Wang Qishan said at the opening of a citywide meeting last month.

China’s State Environmental Protection Administration said last year that more than half of the nation’s 500 largest cities have polluted air and more than 50 of its largest cities “suffered from aggravated [groundwater] pollution.” The report did not specify the quality of Beijing’s air or water, but one survey conducted last year found that 56 of the 78 rivers and lakes in Beijing did not meet national standards, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Sun said the government would stress environmental protection as it continued to prepare for the Olympics and noted that air quality in Beijing has improved since the 1990s.

Distributed by New York Times News Service.

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