Beijing remakes 18 Olympic sites as 12-day Paralympic Games approach

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 August, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 29 August, 2008, 12:00am

Olympics organisers are switching into Paralympics mode in preparation for the world's biggest sporting meet for the disabled.

Eighteen of Beijing's 31 Olympic venues are being reconfigured in preparation for the influx of athletes and spectators when the Paralympics begin a week from tomorrow.

Hong Kong will host the Paralympic equestrian events and Qingdao the sailing events.

More than 4,200 athletes from 148 countries and regions will take part in the 12-day Games.

At the Peking University Gymnasium, the Olympic table-tennis venue, training areas were being set up in a ground-floor area used by the media during the Olympics.

'Organisation-wise, the two Games differ a lot from each other,' a spokeswoman for the gymnasium said.

While there were four Olympic table-tennis events, the Paralympics has 24 to accommodate competitors' differing ability levels.

Despite featuring only 20 sports - eight fewer than the Olympics - 471 Paralympic gold medals will be awarded, 169 more than at the Olympics.

China's Paralympians topped the medal table in Athens four years ago, winning 63 golds, ahead of Britain, with 35, and the United States, which netted 27.

China is fielding 332 athletes, plucked from its 83 million disabled people, for the Games.

The Beijing city government has deployed 400 disabled-friendly buses and stepped up training for the more than 30,000 Paralympic volunteers.

If the Olympics were a coming-out party for China after three decades of breakneck economic and social transformation, the Paralympics are intended to project a heart-warming and soothing image for a country dogged by its spotty record on human rights.

Liu Qi , president of the Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (Bocog), also responsible for the Paralympics, reiterated the nation's well-publicised commitment to treat the Paralympics the same way it handled the Olympics. Mr Liu, Beijing's Communist Party boss and a member of the Politiburo, told the Beijing Daily yesterday that Games organisers should ensure 'an edition of the Paralympics as exciting as the Olympics'.

However, judging by ticket sales, the fanfare for the Paralympics is a lot quieter than the Olympic frenzy. Bocog executive vice-president Tang Xiaoquan said on Saturday that fewer than a third of the 1.66 million Paralympics tickets had been sold.