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China takes the Olympic limelight

By Tracey Holmes for CNN

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(CNN) -- The Olympic Games as we know them are over. From legend to legend the baton has been passed.

In 490BC the military messenger Pheidippides ran to Athens from the battle of Marathon to announce victory over the Persians. While he promptly dropped dead, the spectacle of one of the world's most grueling races was born.

When the Ancient Games were revived as the Modern Olympic Games in Athens 1896, local hero Spiridon Louis won the marathon -- as he should have -- to bring his country international recognition and fame.

Over 100 years later the battle for sporting prowess returned to Athens, but while Greece celebrated their largest medal haul since 1896, their time in the limelight is all but gone.

Spiridon Louis took more than two hours to stamp Greece's ownership on the world's greatest peacetime event.

Last week it took 12.91 seconds for China's Liu Xiang to usher in a new era. He changed the face of the Games forever by being the first Chinese man to ever win a track gold medal, with victory in the 110m hurdles.

The new face of the Olympics is all about world dominance. It's about economics, it's about politics, it's about proving to the world that China is invincible -- no questions asked.

Seven years ago, Xiang, then aged 13, was taken into one of China's many Sports Technical Schools where children are offered the opportunity to bring fame and fortune to the mother country by winning on the international stage.

China currently has 17,000 athletes in its elite sporting system. Some kids as young as six train twice a day, six and a half days a week, until they emerge as world beaters.

Now, it's not just in table tennis that China wins gold. It's in the pool, on the track, in shooting arenas, in canoes, on the tennis court, on windsurfers, at the volleyball net and off the diving platform.

Even so, China's Chef de Mission in Athens (head of delegation), Duan Shijie said midway through the Games: "It's disappointing. Of the 28 sports here we've only won gold medals in 12 of them."

That was before Xiang in the 110m hurdles, before Meng Guanliang and Yang Wenjun paddled their canoe to victory in the 500m, before gold went to Xing Huina in the 10,000m, before gold to the ladies volleyball team and before Tang Li and Tian Tian Sun won the doubles tennis.

And there were others. A remarkable effort since re-emerging on the Olympic stage in 1984 after a 50 year absence.

In the six Olympic Games they've competed in, China has moved up the medal tally in world record time.

Their first gold medal came only 20 years ago. In Barcelona 92 they climbed to 5th spot on the medal tally, in Atlanta 96 they moved into fourth place, in Sydney 2000 they took third and this year in Athens they finished second.

You do the calculations. Another Games, another rung up the ladder. Undoubtedly China wants the top spot in Beijing 2008.

Before expressing your doubts about China achieving this incredible task there are a couple of things you need to keep in mind.

Firstly, China is a country that leaves nothing to chance. They even have cloud seeding rockets to make it rain in times of drought.

Secondly, money is no option it seems.

When they won the right to host the 2008 Olympics back in 2001, they set aside $200 million to train their athletes, some of whom you've seen in the last fortnight.

Thirdly, they have a population of 1.2 billion which means in four years time you won't see one Yao Ming in the NBA you'll see a team of them.

And most importantly, for the Chinese -- "face" is everything. They will showcase the Olympic Games in the biggest, most expensive most extravagant way you can imagine.

They have money, they have people, they have pride and what they don't have they can either copy to perfection or just buy.

Beijing is already in the midst of an US$75 billion makeover. The main stadium for the XXIXth Olympiad will cost $374 million and will look like no other stadium you've ever seen.

The Olympic swim centre is the world's most expensive pool coming in at $120 million.

In fact, if you've been to Beijing before, chances are you won't recognize it if you go back.

For a start you'll probably be able to see it in color rather than the various shades of pollution grey. The planting of 66,000 hectares of trees should cut 15,000,000 tons of sand that blows across the capital annually. There's another 10,000 hectares of re-forestation to come.

Many commentators have expressed concern over the "old" Beijing disappearing but the Chinese are long time students of evolution -- all things must change, life moves on, it's not what has been that is most important but what is to come.

What is to come is world domination -- in sporting terms at least.

Prepare for the next level -- the Ultra Modern Olympic Games. The legend of past glories was extinguished with the flame at the Athens Closing Ceremony on Sunday night. A new beast is about to be born that will change the way China, and the world, sees itself.

The athletes should have the final say as the baton passes from past to future, from Ancient to Modern and Ultra Modern.

"Greeks were born to be winners, they are born to be first. It is inscribed in our cells. It is the best gift our ancestors bequeathed upon us," says Fani Halkia, Greece, gold medal winner of the women's 400 hurdles in Athens.

"I've proved that the yellow skinned man can win," Liu Xiang said after winning the 110m hurdles in Athens.

"I've proved that China and Asia can also win. My performance was perfect. I believe more miracles will happen to me. I believe the Olympics in Beijing will be the most successful one ever staged."


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