Olympics newsletter

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Come rain or shine

Fiona Tam in Shantou and Al Guo in Beijing
May 10,2008

 

Rain failed to dampen the spirit of Shantou residents, with one million of them braving the inclement weather to catch a glimpse of the Olympic flame as the torch relay made its final stop in Guangdong province on Saturday.

The streets were a sea of red with many supporters waving the national flag and chanting patriotic slogans.

Security was tightened to cope with the large crowds. Police set up barriers and more than 25 security officials were seen running alongside the torch-bearers to protect the flame.

The torch relay in each city consists of 208 legs, to reflect the Olympic year, 2008.

Cai Yanshu, China’s first world weightlifting champion, ran the opening leg of the 40km relay.

Pregnant torch runner Liu Yan managed to finish leg number 41 of the relay with a smile on her face, her bulging belly clearly visible.

Shantou selected six world diving champions and three coaches to run legs 199-207. The training facilities for Guangdong’s diving team are based in Shantou, and the city has branded itself “the home of Chinese diving champions”.

World champion diver Xiao Yanjuan and her husband, Hu Enyong, were the torch-bearers for legs 202 and 201 respectively. Following them, another world champion, Sun Shuwei, and his wife, Cai Yuyan, were picked to run legs 206 and 207.

Cai carried her torch to the top of a 10-metre diving platform and lit her husband’s torch, offering the champion diver a kiss to the cheers of hundreds of spectators. Sun won both world and Olympic gold in the 10-metre competition.

Shantou Mayor Cai Zongze ran the final leg before lighting a larger torch to celebrate the Games.

Visitors to the city for the relay booked about 1,600 rooms in Shantou’s major hotels over the weekend. Hoping to profit from the high demand, the luxurious Regency Hotel doubled its room rate to 1,008 yuan, while the Meritus Hotel raised its daily rate from 620 yuan to 900 yuan.

Many hotels took on the appearance of university dorms, as excited guests woke at 6am to witness the relay. Some spectators said they arrived as early as 4am in hopes of staking out prime locations along the relay route.

Days before the Olympic flame arrived, Shantou residents had already begun the celebrations. A set of six-year-old Shantou quintuplets – three boys and two girls, all with the word “China” in their names – dressed up as the Beijing Games’ mascots, known collectively as Fuwa, or Five Friendlies.

Red T-shirts with slogans like “I love China” have sold like hot cakes and some hairdressers even offered special Olympic coifs with symbols like the five interlocking Olympic rings and the torch.

Olympic sponsor McDonalds got in on the act, offering special “I’m lovin’ China” meals for 52 yuan. The numbers “five” and “two” are pronounced similar to “I” and “love” in Chinese.

The Olympic flame moves to Fujian province from Sunday.

Copyright ©2008 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.