Thorpe, Yang have faith in Beijing's ability to curb pollution
At this time four years ago, Ian Thorpe was on mountain tops swimming in what he described as 'tiny, disgusting pools'. In 2004, with less than 200 days until the Olympics, Thorpe, who would end up winning four medals in Athens, was beginning his toughest cycle, swimming at high altitude and doing a lot of a kilometres.
Now, with Beijing less than sevens months away, Thorpe, who retired from swimming in November 2006, is still involved with the sport, although he also has other business interests, including designing an underwear line. He says he will be in Beijing, although he is unsure exactly what his role will be.
'I'm still not certain in what capacity I'll be going to Beijing,' says Thorpe. 'I'll be doing a lot, but I can't be specific with details yet.'
Thorpe, 25, called Beijing the biggest and the most important Olympics, but dispelled the notion that 2008 is China's coming out party. 'That's been and gone,' Thorpe said. 'China's been here and China's been in the press before 2008. I think 2008 should be China's opportunity to celebrate the success that has happened in this country and hopefully will continue to happen. Beijing and the Olympics will blow the world's mind.'
As environmental concerns dominate much of the coverage in the lead-up to the Olympics, Thorpe believes the concerns are valid but much is being done to address the pollution issues.
'With my understanding and with the intentions I've seen of what's happening in Beijing, there's a desire to make it as green as possible and I hope that continues,' Thorpe said.
Thorpe's sentiment was echoed by Olympic speed skater Yang Yang (both were in Hong Kong this week as part of their sponsorship deal with Omega), who said she had confidence the pollution would clear by August.
'Right now [with] the traffic, you can tell it's not very good,' Yang said. 'And all the construction. But I believe it will be better and [there are] several solutions. For sure I will give up my car during the Olympics. I will use public transport.'
Since retiring from speed skating after Torino 2006, Yang, 31, has studied in the US and has worked with the Chinese Olympic Committee as well as hosting a television programme for CCTV4.
'I'm doing a lot of small things and I'm enjoying it,' said Yang, the three-time Olympian with five medals, including China's first winter Olympic gold medal in 2002.
Yang is also as an athlete representative at the World Anti-Doping Agency and said last year was a difficult one when it came to drugs.
'I felt bad for [US track and field star] Marion Jones,' Yang said. 'I like her, she was a good athlete, unfortunately she took drugs.'
Yang said she was hoping Beijing could produce a clean Olympics. She believed that most of the conversations surrounding the Olympics were positive and revolved more around logistical practicalities than ideological arguments.
In both China and abroad, Yang said the Olympics was a topic of discussion; among the Chinese she is often asked whether the country is ready, where tickets can be bought and hotels found.
Among her American friends, Yang is asked if they can be guests in her home. Of the actual Olympics, Yang said she was most looking forward to showing Beijing to her friends who had never been to China.
What will happen to China post-Olympics remains to be seen but Yang, who is friends with many of the Chinese athletes, is sought less for advice about being an Olympian and questioned more about what happens after retirement. 'Most of them ask me, 'What's your life like after retirement?'' Yang said.