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T he 29 th Olympic Games: Beijing 2008

'CITIUS, ALTIUS, FORTIUS ' (swifter, higher, stronger) - although these words became the motto of the Olympic movement only at the turn of the 19th century - they certainly refer to the ancient tradition. Indeed, the first Olympic Games were held in the Greek Olympia already in 776 BC and since then they were organised in four year intervals. Initially, the Olympic Games lasted only for a day, however, over time, when the programme was expanded, they significantly grew. It happened so as many as 292 (!) times - when the games became ... outlawed The ban was valid for as long as nearly until the end of the 19th century, and the one who decided to reactivate the Olympic games was a French educationalist - baron Pierre de Coubertin. In 1896, in Athens slightly more than 240 competitors (exclusively men) representing 14 countries competed in 43 disciplines. The revived movement was developing quickly, it covered new countries and expanded with new sports disciplines, it became accessible also for women. The sports competition was enriched with philosophic and educational ideas, highlighting such qualities of sports, as shaping strong willpower, the need of regular exercise, respect for the rivals, rejection of the possibility of unfair victory, etc. The first elements of Olympic symbolism and ceremony also appeared - the parade of nations, the Olympic hymn, later - the Olympic flag, the flame lit at the stadium (with time crowning a multi-kilometre relay, running to the town hosting the Olympic Games from Olympia), finally - the Olympic oath spoken by competitors and referees...

Already since the first modern Olympics each subsequent meeting of the sportsmen (and it also refers to the winter Olympics taking place since 1924) has been larger than the previous one. The number of disciplines and competitors was growing, there were more teams and participants. The International Olimpic Committee (IOC) hampered this tendency only in the 90s of the 20th century, establishing the number of competitors taking part in the Olympics as 10,500 - 10,600 to the utmost. This action required a complicated qualification system. What could be done yet as the world Olympic movement includes already 205 countries in all the continents?

The Games of the XXIX Olympiad are scheduled to be held in Beijing from 8 August 2008 to 24 August 2008. Nearly 16 000 press, radio and TV correspondents will ensure global coverage of the event. It is estimated that altogether the Polish national team will be slightly larger than the one that participated in a few recent Olympic Games: in Atlanta (197 persons), in Sydney (199) or in Athens (201). Difficult though it is to guess with how many and which medals they will come back home at the end of August, but it is widely believed that they will perform even better than in Athens (10 medals, including 3 gold ones). Sport lovers wonder which of the members of the team will reach for the ?jubilee medal at the Games in the Chinese capital city. According to the all time medal count for (summer and winter) Olympic performances Polish athletes have won the total of 259 medals!

The Games of XXIX Olympiad are going to be held in Beijing, a city with a population of ca. 13 million inhabitants. The decision taken by the IOC in the mid of 2001, entrusting the capital city of the People's Republic of China with the role of the host, caused great joy in China - the organizers have launched bold preparations and assigned huge funds to the Olympic project. China put sport in the centre of attention much earlier, which increased the number of medals won by Chinese athletes, for instance at the Olympic Games - from 28 (including 5 gold ones) in Seoul (1988) to 63 (including 32 most precious - i.e. gold) in Athens (2004). In consequence, the country of the 2008 Olympic Games went up to the second place in the medal ranking of the previous games.

In March 2008 the Games in Beijing earned additional global publicity in the wake of the dramatic, antigovernment rallies in Tibet suppressed by the authorities. Given these developments, the question re-surfaced whether China is ready for hosting a major sport event. Bearing in mind the harsh lessons of boycott actions undertaken in 1976, 1980 or 1984 for sport, the activists of the international Olympic movement firmly opposed the idea of boycotting the Games - conversely, they acknowledged the event as yet another chance for democracy to take roots in China.

Brisk preparations are afoot for the Olympic Games - till the end of 2007 all the sports arena were adequately managed - the National Stadium called the 'Bird's Nest' was opened at the end of March 2008. Both the stadium and the majority of remaining objects have already passed successful trials during the test events, and so have all the services of the organizers.

The opening ceremony (to last for 3.5 hours) was set at 20:08 on the 8th day of eighth month 2008 a long time ago and it is to ensure sure success to the event, as number 8 is regarded as a very lucky one in the Chinese tradition. The interest in the Olympic Games is tremendous - tickets sell excellently; 760 000 persons volunteered to take part in the social work at the service of the Olympic Games' service - that is 10 times more than will be required in August. An extensive educational programme is underway that is to bring not only the idea of Olympic Games or the rule of individual sports disciplines but also the principle of proper conduct to the people, especially to children and youths. Parallely the project of mass education in foreign languages has been launched with a view to streamlining the communication with the guests of Olympic Beijing. Everything shows that it will be unusually beautiful and successful Games. Let's hope that it will be also successful for the sportsmen in white and red sportswear and with an emblem of the Eagle on the chest!

Henryk Urbaś
Press spokesman Polish Olympic Committee