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Controversial Beijing Games Close in Spectacular, Surreal Style

As the Olympic Games came to a spectacular and surreal close in Beijing on Sunday Aug. 23, Germany said that the Olympics have helped to open up Chinese society despite reported human rights abuses linked to the Games.

Fireworks go off over the National Stadium during the Closing Ceremony of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games at the National Stadium, known as Bird's Nest, Beijing, China, 24 August 2008.

Going out with a bang: Beijing bids farewell to the Games but the debates will rage on

"I think if we make a preliminary assessment then one can say that the Games contributed to further modernization of China," deputy foreign ministry spokesman Andreas Peschke said. "All of the preparations led to significant progress in the country. I think it can also be said that the Games contributed to a further opening up of China."

Peschke noted the global debate after China won the right to stage this month's Games over the human rights situation in the country and what impact the Olympics could have on Beijing.

"If you think of China 20 years ago, nothing of the sort would have been possible. Thousands of journalists were in China, reported about China," he said at a news conference. "I think it can be said that the Olympic Games made a positive contribution to the future of China."

IOC chief heralds "truly exceptional" Games

President of the IOC Jacques Rogge, left, and President of China Hu Jintao participate in the closing ceremony in National Stadium at the Beijing 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Sunday, Aug. 24, 2008.

Rogge, left, chose not to criticize Hu's China publicly

International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge closed the Games according to IOC tradition, calling the Beijing Games "truly exceptional" before inviting "the youth of the world to assemble four years from now in London to celebrate the Games of the XXX Olympiad."

"These were truly exceptional Games," was Rogge's final verdict, avoiding the phrase "the best Games ever" which his predecessor Juan Antonio Samarach used when applicable.

"Thank you to the people of China, to all the wonderful volunteers and to BOCOG!" Rogge said in his speech. "Through these Games, the world learned more about China, and China learned more about the world.

"To the athletes tonight: You were true role models. You have shown us the unifying power of sport. The Olympic spirit lives in the warm embrace of competitive rivals from nations in conflict. Keep that spirit alive when you return home," said Rogge.

Rogge spoke at "the end of 16 glorious days which we will cherish forever," praising "these dazzling venues" such as the Bird's Nest and the water Cube.

Liu Qi, head of the organizing committee BOCOG, said: "The Chinese people, teeming with enthusiasm, have honored the commitments they solemnly made."

The formal act came halfway through a glittering party attended by China President Hu Jintao and other dignitaries which featured drummers with giant instruments suspended from the sky and hundreds of actors.

A turn for the bizarre as London handed Olympic mantle

A British double-decker bus enters the National Stadium during the closing ceremony for the Beijing 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Sunday, Aug. 24, 2008.

London had its first eight minutes of Olympic glory in the handover ceremony, arriving on a double-decker bus which opened into a stage on which guitarist Jimmy Page and sung by Leona Lewis rocked the house with the Led Zeppelin classic "Whole Lotta Love".

Soccer icon David Beckham then rose messiah-like from the depth of the bus, before kicking a ball to the athletes gathered in the Bird's Nest stadium.

Rogge then closed the Games and the Olympic flame then went out unceremoniously marking the symbolic end of the Games.

It was a typically surreal spectacle, fittingly so given the whole atmosphere of the Games which were detached from reality as never before.

Competition took place in a world of its own, a Planet Olympia, while host China's communist government ruled outside as if Olympic values had never come to town.

There was nonetheless hope that China and the world had reached a better understanding of each other during the August 8-24 Games -- with one of the lasting memories the hundreds of thousands of friendly and helpful Olympic volunteers.

China penetrated the Olympic planet with a record haul of medals to dethrone the United States atop the final tally. But it also cried 1.3 billion tears when poster boy Liu Xiang limped out of the 110m hurdles.

China built no white elephants as gigantic state-of-the-art venues such as the Bird's Nest and Water Cube were the stage for 11,249 athletes from 204 countries competing in 302 medal events.

Record-breaking Games

The arenas are part of a lasting legacy for the world's most populous nation after seeing 43 world records and hundreds of other records.

United States Michael Phelps

American swimmer Michael Phelps was the king of the pool as he won eight gold medals with seven world record results, surpassing Mark Spitz' seven golds at one Games from 1972 and improving his overall golden tally to an Olympic record 14 - five more than anyone else in the Games' 112-year history.

But the records didn't only tumble in the Water Cube as athletics in the Bird's Nest located just opposite also saw new milestones.

Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt redefined the sprint when he won the 100m in 9.69 seconds, the 200m in 19.30 seconds and helped the 4x100 relay team to 37.10 seconds, a feat never achieved before the Beijing Games.

Jamaica's Usain Bolt poses next to the scoreboard after setting a new world record as he wins gold in the men's 100-meter final

Bolt out of the blue: Sprinter Usain was no.1 on the track

Bolt was joined as three-time gold medalist by British cyclist Chris Hoy, Australian swimmer Stephanie Rice and Chinese gymnast Zou Kai.

There was national glory galore as China became only the third nation other than the US and the Soviet Union to top the Olympic medal table, following Britain in 1908 and Germany 1936, both also hosts at the time.

The regular sweep of table tennis golds, seven of eight diving golds, multiple gymnastics success and first ever boxing golds allowed China to end the Games with 51 gold, 21 silver and 28 bronze for a total 100 medals.

The US had more overall medals with 110 on a 36-38-36 breakdown, with Russia third on 23-21-28 (72) and Britain getting their best haul in a century with 19-13-15 (47) for fourth place in a first showing of what the team could at home in London 2012.

But there was more to the Games, most notably the hug and kiss between medal-winning shooters Natalia Paderina of Russia and Georgia's Nino Salukvadze three days into the hostilities of their countries.

Controversy not far below carefully constructed surface

On the downside were the infamous kick of Cuban taekwondo fighter Angel Matos at the referee and six doping offences highlighted by Ukraine's Lyudmila Blonska who was stripped of her heptathlon silver and faces a life ban as a second-time offender.

The IOC conducted a record 5,000 tests and 39 positive cases were recorded in the month before Olympic testing. Rogge spoke of a growing deterrent effect which also comes from new rules that Olympic doping offenders are barred from the next Games.

But the IOC had not much to laugh about in its relationship with China as plenty of promises appeared to have been broken, the human rights situation did not improve as China pledged it would, and the obsession with being in control stifled attempts to give a party atmosphere to the Games.

Foreign pro-Tibet activists are detained by Chinese police and security guards after they staged a protest near the main Olympics venue in Beijing

Outside the Games, the crackdown continued unabated

China promised to improve human rights when it was awarded the Games in 2001 and said it would grant broad freedoms for foreign media to cover the event unhindered.

But independent rights group Human Rights Watch last week accused China of human rights violations linked to the Beijing Games.

It cited a list of "documented" abuses included "media censorship, the abuse of migrant construction workers who built the Olympic venues, and the unlawful forced evictions of hundreds of thousands of Chinese citizens from their homes to make way for these venues."

The authorities have also come under fire from media groups for blocking access to sensitive websites.

Meanwhile the United States is urging China to release immediately eight American nationals detained after pro-Tibet protests in Beijing during the Olympic Games.

The IOC managed to intervene as far as internet access for the media inside the Olympic bubble was concerned, but outside all 77 applications for protests were rejected and foreign media hindered in its coverage.

"The IOC and the Olympic Games cannot force changes on sovereign nations or solve all the ills of the world. But we can - and we do - contribute to positive change through sport," said Rogge.

Gold medal for propaganda

Seven year-old Yang Peiyi, the girl who actually sang during the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2008 Olympics. Lin Miaoke lip-synched the song Ode to the Motherland in the performance

Yang Peiyi was the voice of another angel, Lin Miaoke

China spent billions of dollars in infrastructure, the venues and a remarkable Olympic village, but there were also the fakes at the opening ceremony -- fake fireworks footage, a fake girl singer and fake ethnic groups.

Chinese propaganda left nothing to chance; something which marred the atmosphere as only ticket holders were allowed on to the Olympic Green and an Olympic party atmosphere in the city was not welcome.

The communist leadership continued to vaunt the XXIX Olympic Games as a "milestone of the way to the great resurgence of the Chinese nation".

In true old communist tradition, it congratulated itself on hosting the "successful Games", at the same time forestalling growing criticism by proclaiming: "We have fulfilled the confidence the world put in us."

The world, so the proclamation continued, "made the right decision" in awarding China the Games. But it is a judgment that only covers the blemishes beneath the golden polish.

Despite the illusions, hosts deserve credit

The host nation's avalanche of gold also disguised the fact that China is not a sporting nation and that its successes were achieved through massive state funding as used to be the case in the former Soviet bloc.

Another contradiction is the fact the world's biggest developing nation was able to stage the most expensive Games in the history of the Olympic movement.

The chronic poverty that is almost everywhere was not to be seen inside the "Olympic bubble" - neither the beggars nor the hordes of poorly paid itinerant workers who built the spectacular sporting venues.

Two journalists filming the iconic National Stadium

The smog will make its return to Beijing soon enough

Never before was the Chinese capital so clean and spruced up. But that was due to emergency action rather than a legacy of the Olympics. Once the athletes leave the chimneys will resume belching smoke and car fumes will again make the air barely breathable.

Despite the criticism, China also deserves respect. The genuine friendliness of the 1.5 million volunteer helpers enabled the country to present a new face to the world.

Mobilizing all the powers at its disposal in the vast nation, China was able to give the athletes a superbly organized Games -- something only possible in an authoritarian state.

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