It had to be China; it had to be Beijing. In a nation so obsessed with the number eight that SIM cards or apartments bearing that number cost more, it was unimaginable that they would not be selected to host the Olympics in 2008 – especially since a suitably auspicious quirk of the calendar meant that the eighth day of the eighth month fell on a Friday – the day on which the Opening Ceremony has to take place.
Beijing duly won the vote in 2001 (beating Toronto into second place, and Paris into third), and readied itself for the Games to end all Games – some put the final cost at over US$40bn, making it by far the most expensive sporting event in history. There were problems along the way, most notably protests by pro-Tibetan and human rights activists on the torch relay, but all venues were completed on time, and the Games duly began on August 8, 2008 in an utterly compelling Opening Ceremony.
Though over 10,000 athletes competed in the Games, two superstars stole the show. American swimmer Michael Phelps had won six golds at the previous Games in Athens; here he surpassed himself, and everyone in Olympic history, by winning an unprecedented eight gold medals. Then there was Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, who had broken the 100m world record a few months before the Games in only his fifth race at the distance; here he obliterated that mark, winning in a time of 9.69 seconds, a time even more amazing when replays showed that he started to celebrate (and decelerate) well before the finish line. China had plenty to cheer about too, winning 51 gold medals – far ahead of the USA in second place.