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Qingdao revels in role as Olympic sailing host
青岛帆船网 2010-01-31 16:24:05 

    Qingdao city opened China's largest-ever regatta, the nation's first pre-Olympic event that will serve as a barometer of its readiness for the 2008 Games in Beijing.

    More than 460 world-class sailors from 41 countries have ar rived on the shores of this picturesque coastal city for Olympic class races that start Monday in the first of two major test regattas in the run-up to the 29th Olympiad.

    The event Sunday also places China, a relative newcomer to the world of competitive sailing, on the map of top yachting venues. The ambitious sporting nation has already transformed itself into a major destination for tennis, golf and auto racing.

    "The sailing facilities in Qingdao are the best in Asia and even among the best in the world," city mayor Xia Geng said prior to the opening ceremony. "We want to popularize sailing and make Qingdao a sailing city."

    The International Olympic Sailing Center, built on the docks of a decaying shipyard that looks out onto the dark emerald-blue waters of Fushan Bay, was christened in June at the national windsurfing championships.

    Although the Olympic village is yet to be finished, the 45 hectare (111 acre) site, which can berth up to 800 yachts and is surrounded by new luxury apartment high rises, sparkles with the best equipment money can buy.

    The venue's sleek glass buildings, molded in the shape of sails, house media, athlete and logistics centers while an expansive breakwater complete with energy-saving windmills and shaded picnic tables will allow for thousands of spectators.

    A national sailing school and an Olympic museum are also planned.

    "All the venues will be completed by the end of June 2007," said Sun Lifei, operations director of the city's organizing committee.

    As the only other mainland Chinese city to be granted the honor of holding sporting games for the 2008 Olympics, Qingdao, which lies 500 kilometers (300 miles) southeast of Beijing, has pushed hard to ensure its lack of experience will not mean falling short of the finish line.

    "I'm not nervous now, but three years ago I was nervous," said mayor Xia, in a candid appraisal of some of the difficulties the city had to overcome.

    "We have worked very hard to prepare for such a large-scale regatta and the challenges have not been small. Qingdao has never held such a big event.

    "Two years ago you could hardly find a single marina in Qingdao. We also lacked the experts and professionals for the organization of sailing events," said Xia, who called on European sailing organizations to help out.

    While the races will help the sailors decipher Qingdao's fluky winds and tricky currents, International Sailing Federation chief Jerome Pels said that the regatta was mainly aimed at helping the organizing committee.

    "The challenge is that China is not very experienced in organizing sailing events," Pels told the China Daily. "That is the reason why we start with two practice events leading to 2008." The second regatta is scheduled for next August.

    The city of seven million, known in Chinese as "green island", has also had to take on board major security and emergency initiatives, enlisting 1,000 police and safety personnel and training 900 volunteers unfamiliar with the sport.

    A major environmental cleanup of the harbor's filthy waters, which officials described as "pretty badly polluted", was also undertaken.

    All this has come with a hefty price tag for the city that until now has been better known for its beer, Tsingdao, and a German colonial past that has bequeathed it a legacy of red-roofed Western-style homes and pine-bowered streets.

    Qingdao has sunk a total of 3.28 billion yuan (410 million dollars) into the facilities that include the latest high-tech seawater filtering as well as the use of wind and solar energy for heating systems and street lights.

    Despite the costs, most of which have been defrayed to private investors who have formed a consortium to develop the marina and the adjacent sites, officials are confident post-Olympic plans will pay off.

    "We are confident that we can make our investment back," said the mayor.


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