The most eye-catching venue for the Beijing Olympic Games, the "Bird's Nest" stadium, made its debut on April 18, as China's construction and preparations on Olympic venues are drawing to an end.
A race walking challenge and a marathon competition were the first events at the National Stadium, the official name of the "Bird's Nest." The venue, where the Olympic opening and closing ceremonies will be held as well as track and field competitions and some football games, will host another test event in May.
The 3.5-billion-yuan (500-million-U.S. dollar) architectural jewel of Beijing, nicknamed "Bird's Nest" from its design of interlocking cement and steel frames, is the last competition venue to be finished.
The final touches to the "Bird's Nest" were postponed to the end of April because of "a few adjustments for the opening and closing ceremonies," said the Beijing Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games (BOCOG).
China has completed work on 30 of the 31 new and refurbished competition venues and all the 45 training venues in Beijing by April 18.
ICONIC "BIRD'S NEST" AND "WATER CUBE"
Of the Olympic venues, "Bird's Nest" and the "Water Cube" Aquatics Center are two iconic and landmark showpieces.
"Bird's Nest," the main stadium for the Games, is at the Olympic Green, east of the city's north-south axis and to the north, covering an area of 258,000 square meters (63.8 acres).
Many Chinese people chose to stop at a viaduct opposite the stadium to take souvenir pictures, a practice frowned upon by traffic police as it can cause traffic congestion.
The 91,000-seat "Bird's Nest," whose structure is made of 45,000 tonnes of steel, has the world's most advanced screening and omni-directional systems and mobile seating.
It employs sophisticated architectural designs and arts produced by Switzerland-based Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron. It is said that the distance from any location inside the venue to the center of the sports field is within 140 meters and all the spectators are able to leave the venue within roughly eight minutes.
Jared Tallent from Australia, the arena's first gold medallist who won the men's 20km of the IAAF Race Walking Challenge on April 18, said the "Bird's Nest" is "fantastic" and the track is "good enough."
The 17,000-seat "Water Cube" will host swimming, diving, synchronized swimming and water polo games during the Olympics and 42 gold medals will be awarded there.
It was completed on January 28 and hosted its first event, a swimming competition, three days later.
The squat, box-like structure with three pools below ground level is made up of a steel skeleton sheathed in a Teflon-like plastic membrane that resembles bubbling water and gives the venue its name.
The eco-friendly structure's translucent shell allows in natural sunlight, providing heat and light and cutting energy use by up to 30 percent, according to information provided by BOCOG.
"This is an excellent and wonderful facility... and the best aquatic venue by far," said Richard Kevan Gosper, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Press Commission chairman.
Together, the two structures are at the heart of the 2008 Games layout and reflect the Chinese philosophy of harmonious balance. The steel stadium is circular and red hued. The water-covered swimming center is square and blue. Fire and water, masculine and feminine. An aerial photograph of the site reveals the two key Olympic venues forming a giant yin and yang symbol (ancient Chinese symbol of femininity and masculinity).
The north-south city axis, which runs through the Tian'anmen Square, the Forbidden City and the Drum and Bell Towers, perfectly dissects the two modern landmarks, which are born from a mix of deep-rooted Chinese culture and free-flowing modern ideas.
"Bird's Nest" and "Water Cube" will be operated by their investors in the following 30 years after the Olympic Games.
OTHER VENUES AND THEIR FEATURES
Of the 31 Beijing Olympic competition venues, 12 are new, 11 are older buildings being refurbished and eight are temporary structures. There are six other competition venues in the co-hosting cities of Qingdao, Hong Kong, Tianjin, Shanghai, Shenyang and Qinhuangdao.
The construction of the 31 competition venues in Beijing cost less than 13 billion yuan, according to Beijing Vice Mayor Chen Gang.
BOCOG said the check and acceptance of Olympic venues would be finished in June. The venues held 35 test events and received more than 20,000 journalists and half a million spectators by mid March, winning accolades from officials, athletes and audiences.
The construction of the venues started in December 2003 with a ground-breaking ceremony at the "Bird's Nest." The three concepts of Green Olympics, People's Olympics and Hi-tech Olympics were featured in the buildings.
A 19,000-square-meter curtain wall made of low-emissivity glass covers the national Indoor Stadium, providing insulation and improving energy efficiency by reducing the transfer of heat and also acting as a filter for ultra-violet rays.
The Shunyi Olympic Rowing-Canoeing Park is the world's only first-class rowing-canoeing venue that contains both flat-water and slalom courses. Combined with the forest in surrounding areas, the park is hailed as a natural "oxygen bar."
The University of Science and Technology of Beijing (USTB) Gymnasium boasts the world's largest suspended dome ceiling of 93 meters in diameter.
The biggest highlight of the USTB Gymnasium lies in the installation of 148 fiber optic light pipes that are 530 mm in diameter. On days with strong sunlight, the pipes will be able to meet the lighting needs for sports training in the gym. At night, the pipes will transmit light through the gymnasium's roof, creating an attractive night view.
The Beijing Shooting Range Hall was designed to reflect the shape of a hunting bow, as hunting in forests is the origin of the sport. The shape will reduce audience disturbance of players while maximising the number of spectators.
SECURITY, TRAFFIC AND OTHER PREPARATIONS
China has formed a top-level leading group for the preparations of the Beijing Olympic Games headed by Xi Jinping, a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, the country's top decision-making body.
The country also appointed a state-level agency that groups the Ministry of State Security, the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to ensure security for the Games.
It has also drafted plans for emergencies during the event, enhanced exchanges and coordination with foreign security organizations, and stepped up training for security staff as well other people involved in the Games.
To ease traffic woes in a city with 17 million people and more than 3 million registered motor vehicles, Beijing will copy Sydney and Athens' practice to separate Olympic traffic from others, according to BOCOG.
Beijing tested a traffic ban from August 17 to 20 last year, removing 1.3 million or one-third of the city's automobiles every day from its gridlocked streets in accordance with the even and odd numbers on licence plates. The test reduced traffic on main roads and exhaust emissions by 30 and 40 percent respectively.
In preparation for the passenger surge during the Olympics, Beijing opened the world's largest airport terminal in February. The dragon-shaped Terminal 3 at Beijing's Capital International Airport was built at a cost of 27 billion yuan, and will give the airport a handling capacity of 76 million passengers a year, more than double the previous 36 million.
Many of Beijing's parks and historic sites were undergoing renovation before the Games, while eight two-year-old pandas will leave their hometown in southwest China for Beijing in May to entertain tourists.