BEIJING — As the opening date for the 2012 London Olympics draws nearer, Chinese visitors to the 2008 Olympic sites in Beijing say that for them, the most important lasting legacy of those games is a sense of national pride.
Chinese people celebrated the 2008 Beijing Olympics as their country’s coming out party. Nearly four years later, that spirit is still alive and well among a steady stream of visitors to the Olympic sites, including Xu Jing, a real estate agent from Guangxi.
“Look at this place. The fact that there are so many people coming to take a look - this was China presenting itself, this was China becoming a big power and showing itself to the rest of the world," she said.
As with all Olympic games, critics point to how host nations spend billions of dollars and afterwards are left with structures that do not pay for their costs.
China is no exception. The two Olympic centerpiece buildings - the national stadium, known as “the Bird’s Nest,” and the national aquatics center, better known as “the Water Cube” - are two examples.
The Water Cube is now open to the public as a water park. The Bird’s Nest attracts tourists and has hosted a few events, but is usually empty.
Gao, a nurse from Anhui, does not dispute the cost, but nevertheless says she is proud that China could afford it.
“The most important thing has been the economics," she said. "China is developing so fast. We can even host the Olympic games.”
Jiang Xaioyu, of the Beijing Olympic City Development Agency, credits the games for leaving what he calls a “huge” material legacy.
“You can look at sports venues like the Bird's Nest or the Water Cube," he said. "There were also improvements in Beijing's public transportation, including the airport and all the highways.”
And Chinese public support for the Olympics is still so strong that some visitors think the Olympic sites are more worthwhile to see than Beijing's traditional number one tourist destination, the Forbidden City.
“If the time is very tight and you have to make a choice, then it is better not to go to the Forbidden City," said Qu, a Gansu businessman. "Just come here and take a look at these venues. They are from a time that is closer to us.”
There's also another legacy from the Olympics. Hong, a businessman from the eastern city of Ningbo, says it produced a greater interest in athletics all around China.
“Before, there were places, especially smaller cities, where people did not do much sports at all. Now, they do more," he said.
Hong says he has watched the Olympics before, but always on TV. Now, he plans to go to London, to see some of the events in person, since, he adds, he now has enough money.