China counts down to 2008 Olympics


BEIJING -- China began the one-year countdown to the 2008 Beijing Olympics on Wednesday with a three-hour ceremony in Tiananmen Square that was broadcast nationwide to nearly 340 million households via China Central Television.

Expected to bring millions in advertising to CCTV, China's first-ever games carry the motto "One world, one dream." The dazzling lights and song and dance of the countdown were set against the backdrop of the portrait of Mao Zedong, the supreme icon of China's one party.

Beijing Mayor Wang Qishan, also the chairman of the Beijing Olympic organizing committee, introduced speeches by Wu Bangguo, China's second in command, and International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge.

"It is a century-old dream of the Chinese people to host the Olympics, and we intend to use the games to promote greater friendship with the world," said Wu, leader of China's parliament, the National People's Congress. "I want to take this opportunity to show to the world that the Chinese people are committed to the success of the Olympic Games."

Amid widespread concern that the government cannot live up to its promises to the IOC to make the 2008 games the "Green Olympics" and provide unrestricted press freedom, Rogge said: "With one year to go, we can see fast achievements behind us and the great potential that lies ahead."

Rogge complimented Beijing on its $40 billion makeover, including the speedy delivery of such gleaming new sporting venues as the "Bird's Nest" National Stadium and the "Water Cube" swimming complex, which he said are "almost finished and look fantastic."

The so-called "live" broadcast of the ceremony that kicked off the one-year countdown to the start of the games at 8:08 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 8 appeared to be delayed by at least 20 minutes by CCTV, and longer still by CNN and the BBC, both of which are carried legally in China only in top hotels and diplomatic housing compounds.

Several executives from U.S. Olympics broadcast rights-holder NBC were in Beijing for the ceremony. NBC plans 3,600 hours of coverage of the 2008 games, more than any Olympics broadcaster in history.

The opening and closing ceremonies of next year's games will be designed by veteran film director Zhang Yimou with help from Steven Spielberg and others.