Under full sail
Qingdao is ready and waiting.
Two months ago, the city celebrated the opening of the sailing centre, including the athletes' centre, media centre, measurement hall dock and boat parking.
And now they wait - not only for the test event in one year and the real thing in 2008 but for the goddess of wind to blow a bit.
The centre was christened at last month's National Sailing and Windsurfing Champion-ships, which were bedevilled by light winds, but the real test is next week when participants from all over the world converge for the 'Good Luck Beijing - 2006 Qingdao International Regatta'. About 460 sailors from 41 teams will take part in the August 18-31 regatta.
'If we take the national championships in July as a secondary school entrance test, then the international regatta in August will be a high school examination and when the 2008 events begin we will be able to hand out a university degree,' says Yuan Zhiping, one of four deputy secretary-generals of the Sailing Committee of Bocog. 'I can assure you Qingdao is ready for the challenge and will not let you down.'
The regatta features all 11 Olympic classes and is the first test event for 2008, with the next one scheduled for next August, a year before the games.
Looking out from his office window to the sailing site, Yuan says he is 'amazed' at the transformation in the past two years.
'This is an amazing job for those involved in the project, and they should be proud of themselves for completing the construction over such a short period,' said Yuan.
'In fact, the construction of the centre is not just for the 2008 Games, it is a major step in an attempt to turn Qingdao into China's 'City of Sails'.'
Construction work on the 3.3 billion yuan centre began on May 25, 2004. It also comprises an Olympic sub-village (corresponding to the Olympic Village in Beijing), an administrative centre, a logistic centre, an Olympic Memorial Deck and a main water-break 534 metres long and 47m wide.
The Qingdao Olympic Sailing Centre is at the former Beihai (Northern Sea) dockyard on Fushan Bay in the east of the city, adjoining the famous May Fourth City Square and Donghai Road. It covers 45 hectares, of which 30ha will be the competition area, while 15ha are reserved for post-games development.
'From the very beginning, we have embraced the theme of the games - a green Olympics, a hi-tech Olympics, and a people's Olympics,' Yuan said. 'When we started the construction on the original shipyard site, we protected the natural environment of Yanyidao where a large area is covered by black pine and hybrid plane [plants]. In addition, some old equipment of the shipyard, such as a revolving crane, mooring bollards and dry dockyard, have been kept so visitors can taste the old days of Qingdao's industrial development.'
Apart from the hard-ware, Yuan said software such as human resources was another problem that needed to be tackled. 'In western countries, where sailing is a popular sport, there are a lot of volunteers who are extremely knowledgeable, but in China we need to train volunteers from scratch,' he said.
'We have recruited about 900 volunteers since August last year and provided them with relevant training. The process will continue and more volunteers will be recruited. Hopefully, we can have sufficient trained volunteers by 2008.'
Another concern is the weather. Yuan admitted a lot of athletes and officials had been asking the same question: where are the winds?
'The climate will fit the Olympic event as we have initially set the competition dates between one or two days after the opening ceremony and one or two days before the closing ceremony,' he said.
'This is the best period in Qingdao and the weather will be fine for all. Qingdao beat a number of other cities competing for the regatta simply because, judging from historical figures, we have better wind conditions for sailing during the summer.'
Another deputy secretary, Li Fengli, cited the national champion-ships, saying it was success-fully staged despite five of the 11 races falling victim to light winds. 'Unless we have some exceptional weather conditions, Qingdao 2008 is poised to be a great sailing competition,' he said.