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China Opens 'Water Cube' Olympic Swimming, Diving Venue


China has officially opened its National Aquatics Center, with much fanfare and self-congratulations from Chinese officials. The center, nicknamed the "Water Cube" for its unique bubbly design, will be the venue for swimming and diving competitions this August when Beijing hosts the 2008 Olympic Games. Daniel Schearf reports from Beijing.

Chinese officials declared the Water Cube's construction a complete success on Monday as they officially opened the Olympic venue to throngs of international and domestic journalists.

Officials and managers jubilantly praised the swimming and diving center's construction and unique and energy-saving design as "world class."

I'm very excited and very proud because this venue, among swimming pools, is the largest in the world," said Li Aiqing, chairman of the Beijing State-Owned Assets Management Company. "Its functionality is the most complicated and there is a lot of high tech construction. Furthermore, its design is the most distinctive. After five years of effort, we're very excited and proud."

The aquatic center was jointly designed by Chinese and western architects.

The Water Cube's thick, bubbled surface allows 90 percent of sunlight into the venue and acts as a greenhouse to save energy.

Officials say the facilities, including a 17,000-seat arena, will be ready for a test run this Thursday when the center will host the six-day China Open swimming championships.

Zheng Fang is a manager of temporary construction at the center. He says the structure is up to international safety standards and that some cracks on diving boards pointed out by a journalist would not be a problem.

"The structure is strong enough. There's only some tiny cracks for the surface itself. It will be repaired very soon," Zheng said.

As dust from nearby Olympic construction blew over the bubble inspired structure, officials dismissed concerns they might have trouble keeping the building and water clean.

One official said rainwater would clean the outside while the water used in the pools passed through so many filters it was safer than drinking water. It was not clear if he was referring to bottled or tap water.

Beijing says its tap water is safe to drink, but almost all residents first boil it or buy bottled water.

The Water Cube is the only Olympic venue funded by $110 million in donations from ethnic Chinese living outside mainland China.

Beijing's other iconic Olympic venue is the national stadium, nicknamed the "Bird's Nest" for its nest-shaped design.

Officials said Monday that two workers died during the construction of the national stadium and not the ten or more reported by a British newspaper earlier this month.

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