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Fred Dreier’s Olympic Notebook – Size matters at Beijing Olympics

It’s easy to spot recently arrived journalists in Beijing. They’re the ones haunting the hotel lobby at 3 a.m., emailing like mad to fill the jet-lag time after a 12-hour trans-Pacific flight. By mid day, there is a crowd of new arrivals milling around the information desk at the Main Press Center (MPC), all clutching tattered maps and Chinese-English translation cards as if their lives depended on it. Around 4 p.m., the new recruits make a run on the coffee machines. Or they simply slouch in their chairs and nap. Many drool.

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Includes Casey B. Gibson Photo Gallery

By Fred Dreier

The Water Cube, Pan Gu Hotel, and surreal lighting in the Olympic Green.

The Water Cube, Pan Gu Hotel, and surreal lighting in the Olympic Green.

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

It’s easy to spot recently arrived journalists in Beijing.

They’re the ones haunting the hotel lobby at 3 a.m., emailing like mad to fill the jet-lag time after a 12-hour trans-Pacific flight. By mid day, there is a crowd of new arrivals milling around the information desk at the Main Press Center (MPC), all clutching tattered maps and Chinese-English translation cards as if their lives depended on it.

Around 4 p.m., the new recruits make a run on the coffee machines. Or they simply slouch in their chairs and nap. Many drool.

And all share the same facial expression. It’s a bulged-eye, slack jawed gape — a look of total, utter bewilderment. The look is caused by the overwhelming size and scope of the Beijing Games, the hands-down greatest coordination of men and material in the history of organized sport.

The Forbidden City at night.

The Forbidden City at night.

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

Everything here is massive, from the herd of Ni-Hou (how are you?) shouting volunteers on every block (reportedly 100,000 are working the games), to the skyscraper-sized banners emblazoned with the Games’ official slogan, One World, One Dream. China’s reported $60-odd billion in investment — that’s billion, with a B — can really turn heads.

Even the press center here is ungodly huge — it’s a massive skyscraper that would be the single largest building in many American cities. It boasts 62,000 square meters of workspace, and is the largest press center in Olympics history — surprise, surprise. It houses a sizable hotel, a mega mall-sized food court (with a McDonalds, of course), a workout room, massage parlor, barber and plenty of halls for press conferences.

The Palace Museum in the Forbidden City.

The Palace Museum in the Forbidden City.

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

The International Olympic Committee estimates that somewhere in the neighborhood of 21,000 journalists from around the globe will descend on Beijing at some point during the next three weeks. That’s a lot of coffee, street maps and drool.

It’s hard to believe that just a few days ago I touched down at Beijing’s über-modern airport, caught a cab into town and began the task of trying to make sense of the cycling events at the Beijing Olympics. I scribbled my first impressions from day one on a tattered napkin to keep for later. Here’s a quick primer of what I wrote.

Some of the thousands of fans in Tiananmen Square on opening night.

Some of the thousands of fans in Tiananmen Square on opening night.

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

? ? God this city is clean.
? ? A 45-minute taxi ride costs 35 yuan (about six dollars)? Such a deal!
? ? Every building I’ve seen would be bigger than anything they have in Denver.
? ? Is that fog or smog? It doesn’t stink like smog, but it doesn’t really look like fog. How about I call it smfog?
? ? It’s rush hour and the traffic isn’t bad. Perhaps the U.S. should experiment with forcing cars off the street.
? ? Wow, that bus almost ran over like 10 guys on bikes.

I can assure you there will be more deep thoughts as my coverage for VeloNews evolves over the next three weeks. (If you have any specific questions about the Games, feel free to email me at fdreier@competitorgroup.com.)

The "Bird's Nest" and the "Water Cube" flank the Olympic Green.

The “Bird’s Nest” and the “Water Cube” flank the Olympic Green.

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

I have to admit that I spent those first few days jet-lagged out of my mind, swilling coffee and yes, drooling. I got lost countless times in the bowels of the MPC, and still do from time to time.

Even after a week in Beijing, I can honestly say that the look of bewilderment — the shock of the size of these Games — has yet to leave my face. Every time I head out of my dormitory room at the Beijing Normal University — home of the entire United States Olympic Committee staff — I am dumbstruck by some new angle of the Beijing Olympics’ size. Two days ago it was the five-minute-long motorcade for President Bush that tied up traffic for half an hour on his way to see Michael Phelps win the Individual Medley that caused my jaw to drop.

Today it was the hundreds-feet-tall Olympic emblem — the one of the stick figure breaking the tape — that stands at attention in Beijing’s most famous spot, Tiananmen Square. A few hundred meters away stands that famous large painting of Mao Zedong on the wall of the Forbidden City. Mao’s portrait is smaller. By a lot.

Photo Gallery