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Beijing trumps Athens … and then some

Martin Rogers
Yahoo Sports

BEIJING – It is the biggest buzz word in Olympic circles, and the promise of it can dramatically sway the bidding process for future Games.

Legacy.

These days, any hopeful city with Olympic aspirations must not only show its ability to provide venues and infrastructure of the highest standard, but also prove there will be a lasting positive effect on the local community.

The 2004 Olympics in Athens showed how to get it embarrassingly and disgracefully wrong. Over the past 16 days, Beijing has shown the world how to get it magnificently right.

Four years since the Athens Games, a Greek tragedy is taking place. Incredibly, many of the 22 Olympic venues now lie abandoned, as a sad and litter-strewn reminder of sport's greatest festival.

Gypsy camps have sprung up in the shadow of stadiums where the world’s finest athletes once battled for gold. Graffiti is scrawled over the outer walls of many sites, and it has been reported in Greece that upward of $1 billion has been spent simply to maintain these ugly wrecks.

That is Athens’ legacy.

Sixteen days of glory, but at what price? The Olympics are now almost a dirty word in Athens, most regularly used by politicians who use the issue of decay as a powerful campaigning point.

There was an element of tokenism in awarding the Olympics to Athens in the first place, a symbolic gesture intended as a nod to Ancient Olympia.

The Games will never return there. They will not be allowed to, if for no other reason than that the level of public outrage at the grotesque waste of money on oversized venues with no future is extreme.

Beijing is not going to let that happen. For a start, the Chinese capital has several huge advantages over Athens.

“The reason why some countries have been challenged with economic downturns after hosting an Olympics is that hosting cities are often very small,” said Chen Jian, executive president of the Beijing Economy Research Association. “Their investments in infrastructure construction were excessive. Fluctuations arose in the economic growth when no new hotspot for investment occurred after the Olympics.”

Beijing is a city that deeply loves its sports, even more so now given the host nation’s extraordinary success over the past fortnight.

The Bird’s Nest will be used for major international events, concerts and domestic soccer matches.

The Water Cube aquatic center was built to a sensible size, and will mainly be used for international diving competitions and exhibitions. Diving’s popularity in China should ensure that it is often filled to near capacity.

The luminescent light show on the glowing exterior of the stadium will be turned off soon after the Games, but will be put back on whenever there is a major event taking place in Beijing.

Other sites such as Workers’ Stadium and Workers’ Gymnasium were already in place. The Olympic Park Tennis Center has been tabbed to host an ATP event next year.

Whereas the list of Athens’ failures goes on, so too does the depth of Beijing’s successes.

The Games have sparked economic growth, and experts predict a continued surge in tourism as many fans who traveled to the Olympics are expected to return for a second look.

Here, there is a legacy of pride, and a spectacular standard of responsible spending for future hosts to uphold.

Whether you agree with China’s foreign policies or political ideals, no one can deny this has been a truly superb Olympic Games.

Congratulations, Beijing.