Olympic spirit goes beyond the Games
There is no stage as grand or symbolically important as the Olympic Games. Those who awoke early today to watch London's impressive opening ceremony got a taste of that and will better appreciate it over the coming three weeks. With 10,343 athletes from 205 teams, it is the biggest sporting and cultural event, but it is about much more than the triumph of winning and the heartache of defeat. The Olympic spirit is about inspiration, healthy living, friendship, peace and unity - the fundamentals of a better world.
We must not lose sight of those ideals as we cheer on China's and Hong Kong's athletes. In Beijing four years ago, China proved its prowess by taking more gold medals than any other nation, but it aims to go one better by besting the US for the highest overall tally. China's well-financed and sophisticated training system means it has every chance. Hong Kong's sports institute is among Asia's finest academies and has provided a world-class environment for the 42 athletes representing our city, although their chances of victory are slim; it takes time and community-wide effort to produce top athletes.
While authorities have put billions of dollars into elite sports, we have just a single gold, for windsurfing in 1996, and a silver, for table tennis in 2004, to show for the investment. Still, the vast majority of athletes at the institute are struggling to get the standard of training necessary to be among the world's best. That is because sport is a low priority for the government and those with potential have difficulty making up for the funding shortfall by getting sponsorship deals and community recognition. Gifted cyclist Wong Kam-po is the most celebrated of our Olympians in London, but even he finds it challenging to find places to train and get top-flight competition.
We wish our athletes the best, but it is the premier Olympic track and field and swimming contests that we are most looking forward to. Hurdler Liu Xiang will be out to avenge his disappointment in the 110 metres in Beijing, while all eyes will be on tennis star Li Na, butterfly swimming champion Wu Peng and gymnast Zou Kai. Usain Bolt's defence of his 100-metre sprint title against Jamaican teammate Yohan Blake and in-form Americans Justin Gatlin and Tyson Gay will be a must-watch, as will the competition in the pool between Team USA's Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte. All embody the sporting side of the Olympics - talent, spirit and determination.
But there is another side that must not be overlooked. It encourages healthier pursuits and excellence, which the government and companies have a role in furthering. Just as important is the togetherness, friendship and peace that we, among television viewers around the world, will see in the handshakes of the athletes. Nations and politicians would do well to grasp the Olympic spirit.