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Let the Games begin

By JOAN RAMPERSAD Friday, August 8 2008

click on pic to zoom in
The impressive Olympic stadium in Beijing, China, where the games will be held....
The impressive Olympic stadium in Beijing, China, where the games will be held....

THE EYES of the world will be focused on Beijing, China, today for the opening ceremony of the 2008 Games of the XXIX Olympiad. The Sixteen Days of Glory will continue to August 24 with more than 10,000 competitors representing 205 nations in 42 sporting disciplines.

Canada’s Celine Dion, Taiwan’s Jay Chou, Britain’s Sarah Brightman and China’s Liu Huan will perform during the opening ceremony which will include performances by a cast of 15,000. Forecasters say it will be the most spectacular Olympics Opening Ceremony ever produced.

The opening ceremony will be broadcast live from 7.30 am today on CCN TV6, holders of the local broadcast rights for Beijing Olympics.

For Trinidadians and Tobagonians, the main focus in the first week of the Games will be on the swim team of George Bovell III — (50m, 100m freestyle), Nicholas Bovell and Shantelle Mc Lean — (50m, 100m freestyle). Bovell III is the ninth person ever to win an Olympic medal for TT. His bronze in Athens in 2004 represents the 12th medal this country has achieved in the Olympics.

It was the first for the English-speaking Caribbean in the Athens Games, TT’s first medal ever in the sport of swimming, and the only medal for TT in the 2004 Olympics.

The most anticipated events for local fans get started on August 15 — the track events. Conventional wisdom since the start of the year has suggested that the men’s 100m medals in Beijing will be split between Jamaica’s Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell and the United States’ Tyson Gay but other men have the credentials to seriously beg to differ — the “Forgotten Five” who are aiming to upstage Bolt, Gay and Powell.

Derrick Atkins of the Bahamas, Netherlands Antilles’ Churandy Martina and the TT duo of Richard Thompson and Marc Burns lead the Caribbean challenge to upset the odds, while Portugal’s Francis Obikwelu will be looking to put the old continent on the podium. TT has a tradition of producing speedsters. Edwin Roberts, Hasely Crawford — still the lone TT 100m gold medallist from the 1976 Montreal Olympics — and Ato Boldon all have places on the Olympic 100m roll of honour.

In Beijing, Thompson, Burns and a fit Darrel Brown will be looking to join them. Thompson was an impressive winner of the American collegiate NCAA 100m title in June, beating top American sprinters. He clocked a personal best of 9.93 seconds in May, while Burns has been a consistent performer for several years and reached the 100m final at the last two IAAF World Championships.

Burns has shown his capability by running Powell close at last month’s London Grand Prix in 9.97, his fastest time of the season and just one-hundredth shy of his lifetime best.

The Olympic Games began at Olympia in Greece in 776 BC. The games were staged in the wooded valley of Olympia in Elis. Scholars have speculated that the games in 776 BC were not the first games, but rather the first games held after they were organised into festivals held every four years as a result of a peace agreement between the city-states of Elis and Pisa. According to Hippias of Elis, who compiled a list of Olympic victors c.400 BC, at first the only Olympic event was a 200-yard dash, called a stadium. This was the only event until 724 BC, when a two-stadia race was added. Two years later the 24-stadia event began, and in 708 the pentathlon was added and wrestling became part of the games. This pentathlon, a five-event match consisted of running, wrestling, leaping, throwing the discus, and hurling the javelin. In time boxing, a chariot race, and other events were included.

The victors of these early games were crowned with wreaths from a sacred olive tree that grew behind the temple of Zeus. According to tradition this tree was planted by Hercules (Heracles), founder of the games. The winners marched around the grove to the accompaniment of a flute while admirers chanted songs written by a prominent poet.

The games were held every four years from 776 BC to 393 AD, when they were abolished by the Christian Byzantine Emperor Theodosius I. The ancient Olympic Games lasted for 1170 years.

The successful campaign to revive the Olympics was started in France by Baron Pierre de Coubertin late in the 19th century. The first of the modern Summer Games opened on Sunday, March 24, 1896, in Athens, Greece. The first race was won by an American college student named James Connolly.

The development and governance of the modern games are vested in the International Olympic Committee (IOC), founded in Paris in 1894. Its headquarters are in Lausanne, Switzerland. The original committee had 14 members; today there are about 70. These individuals are considered ambassadors from the committee to their national sports organizations and are dedicated to promoting amateur athletics. Normally there is only one member from each country. Presidents of the IOC are elected for an eight-year term and eligible for succeeding four-year terms.

2. Each country sending teams to the games must have its own National Olympic Committee. By 1988 there were 167 such committees. One responsibility of a national committee is arranging for its team’s participation in the games, providing equipment, and getting the team to the game site and into specially arranged housing.

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