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As Olympics near, Beijing highlights the `wow factor'

BEIJING — A group of foreign journalists was offered a tour of Olympics venues in Beijing earlier this week. Once we arrived at the Bird's Nest National Stadium, tour guides from the Beijing Olympics Committee warned us not to take photographs once we were inside.

I found that curious. So I sidled up to Jeff Ruffolo, one of the rare foreigners working for the Beijing Olympics office, and asked him why.

He immediately cited the "wow factor." Beijing wants to maintain an element of mystery around the sites until the opening ceremony to heighten the impact of the Games.

I have no doubt there'll be plenty of "wow!" once the Games begin. And I'm sure the venues will be spectacular. But getting up close to the main sites this week, I can assure you they are chaotic and noisy work sites, still far from being ready. Once we were inside the Bird's Nest stadium, I saw earthmovers and cement trucks on the field of play. Welding torches cast sparks in the tangle of girders overhead, and buzz saws jangled the air.

"Tell us about the big hole in the ground," one reporter asked the main guide.

"I don't know. Maybe it's confidential," he replied.

Certainly all will be cleared up by Aug. 8, 2008, at 8 p.m. when the Games begin.

Over at the Water Cube, the popular name for the National Aquatics Center a stone's throw from the stadium, work teams were, er, crawling all over the place. It was swimming with activity.

What was interesting about the National Indoor Stadium, where we went next, was that three Chinese flags hung from the rafters, signaling China's intention of winning first, second and third place in the Games.

I caught up with Ruffolo again at the Wukesong baseball venue, and he had more to say about the special nature of the venues. Granted, he's a PR guy, but he has worked at four different Olympics Games. I don't think he's overstating the case that these Olympics venues will be stunning when done.

"You have much more of a Buck Rogers, gee whiz, `Battlestar Galactica' feeling to these venues then you would at any other Olympics,'' he said. ``You've got a facility in the national stadium, dubbed the Bird's Nest, that looks like something Godzilla would live in. You have the Water Cube filled with plastic bubbles all the way around it that the Jetsons might live in, something very futuristic and never before seen at any Olympics Game.

"The difference here is that it is tied into the Chinese culture. You have yin and yang. The Water Cube, the main stadium which will be lit in red as fire. So you have the elements of earth surrounded by water and the dragon's tail coming from the north and the Olympic forest. The entire Olympic Green structure has been looked at, not just mapped out for facilities but something that makes sense for the Chinese culture and the Chinese people."


Tim Johnson is the Beijing bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers. E-mail him at

To read more of this writer's blog — as well as those of other McClatchy foreign correspondents — go to


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