It works like clockwork. You get the subway to Beitucheng, go through security and you are in the special ticket-holders-only zone. Back on to the subway and it’s a short ride to the Olympic Green, complete with sporting venues, broadcast facilities and shrines to the corporate gods that agreed to sponsor the proceedings.
(Volkswagen: Nice dancing show. China Mobile: Does the huge imitation TD-SCDMA handset sticking out of the side of your building work any better than the real things? Johnson & Johnson: Tasteful decor. Adidas: Pretty interesting from a sporting perspective, particularly a display that includes Jesse Owens’s running shoes and Ian Thorpe’s swimsuit. State Grid: Given that many people don’t actually get to choose whether they use your services or not, do you really need to be there? Why not spend the money plugging holes in the grid?)
Entry into the National Stadium (the Bird’s Nest) is equally smooth. And not only does the lattice design look good from the outside, but it works from the inside too. The stairwells thread in and out of the beams that form the stadium’s outer shell, creating plenty of vantage points from which you can catch glimpses of the surrounding area (Fortunately, the weather was great on Saturday.)
Crucially, the sight lines from the seats are good. This is generally the case with most modern sporting arenas but if you’ve been to a few of the older English football stadiums and seen how the other half lives, it is much appreciated.
As the day’s feature event was the final of the 100 meters, the crowd was large and responsive. Some of the biggest cheers went to the Chinese shot putters, which makes you wonder just how intense the reception will be for 110m hurdler Liu Xiang later in the week.
And now for the criticism: Food. Or, more to the point, the lack of food. No complaints about the drinks. Coca Cola has a stranglehold on the soft beverage offerings while Budweiser, Tsingtao and Yanjing are engaged in a three-way battle for the beer market (the result of a bidding war laced with local politics).
But barely two hours into the evening athletics program, food outlets in the Bird’s Nest were devoid of hotdogs, sandwiches, chips and noodles. The last bread roll went to a guy several places ahead of me in the queue. I eventually returned to my seat armed with pots of yogurt and packets of cream crackers – much to the disappointment of my hungry friends.