London must follow Beijing in making the most of the Olympic opportunity to shine in the world's gaze
We have just visited the architectural and iconic centrepiece of the Games, the Bird's Nest Stadium - massive, majestic and magnificent. Also, at £15 per ticket to see the Olympic athletics heats, a venue that offered extremely good value. We witnessed the ignominious departure of Chinese athletic hero Liu Xiang, which seemed to stun the Chinese crowd around us - but that is sport, I guess: win some, lose some!
I was interested to note that as you entered the stadium a leaflet was thrust into your hand pointing out the sustainable virtues of the structure, from energy consumption through to sourcing of materials. The fact that most of the steelwork seems to be decorative rather than structural left me wondering how this could be justified in environmental terms, but the effort at green PR shows that there is at least a recognition of the issue's sensitivity.
It is difficult to make comparisons with our own dear Wembley, but I would say that the organisation at the Bird's Nest is impressive: entrance and exit are achieved with ease. However, the corporate facilities and food franchises were mediocre, to say the least, with a chocolate bar the most nutritious thing on offer.
If there is one memory I shall take away with me, it is the goodwill displayed by all competitors and the politeness of their Chinese hosts.
Making our way across Beijing we literally bumped into Rebecca Adlington, our two-time gold medal-winning swimming star, standing outside the Summer Palace. A lovely girl, she seems completely unaffected by her success and almost stunned that we should recognise her. She is already being “looked after” by minders, and we congratulated her on her success.
I was about to mention to her that we were appointed last week to cost manage the refurbishment of the swimming pool expected to be renamed in her honour when she was whisked away by the BBC. Ah, well - next time, maybe. Perhaps the prospect of a conversation about quantity surveying was too much for her to handle.
After the appalling food at the Bird's Nest, we made our way out of the city centre to a restaurant that typifies the hidden side of Beijing. Inside the city, cars are bumper to bumper and although they alternate odd and even numbered registration plates on different days to reduce the congestion, it does not seem to help much. After 30 minutes we arrived at an oasis of tranquillity, a restaurant called The Green T.
The Olympics is a huge shop window for the nation, and every country on the planet has the opportunity to focus on you for four weeks.
Here you need to imagine a large, empty warehouse, painted all white, located in the middle of a Slough industrial estate. I know that this does not sound appealing, but the restaurant is world-renowned and its non-central location allows it to provide over 20,000 square feet of uncrowded dining space. The Zen-like atmosphere is complemented by a Michelin-starred menu, and it is a cross between a Buddhist temple and a culinary paradise.
It was hard to top that experience in terms of atmosphere and enjoyment, but a day's trip to the ladies' beach volleyball proved a real contrast to the Bird's Nest Stadium. A much smaller venue, it was a lively crowd that watched the women from Brazil battle against the Japanese ladies' team.
If there is one memory of these Games I shall take away with me, it is the goodwill displayed by all competitors towards each other and the politeness of their Chinese hosts. As the Team GB medal total climbs, I think that Beijing is the ideal springboard from which to build a great 2012 Games. This is not necessarily in terms of investment, but from the point of view of a legacy of goodwill.
We need to replicate the positive, upbeat support for the Games shown by the people of Beijing. The Olympics is a huge shop window for the nation, and every country on the planet has the opportunity to focus on you for four weeks. This is truly a chance for the UK to have its moment in the sun. China has clearly grasped this gift and made the most of it - we should do the same.
Richard Steer is senior partner at Gleeds