Beijing has chosen the lucky number 8 for the start of the Olympic Games, setting the clock at 8pm on August 8, 2008, or 8/08/08/08 for the opening ceremony, city mayor Wang Qishan said yesterday.
Hopes of delaying the opening for two more weeks to avoid the stifling heat of summer had been dashed because holding the Games any later would have involved a clash with the US Open tennis tournament and the baseball season in North America, Mr Wang said.
He made the announcement at a science forum in Beijing.
The Games, which had originally been scheduled to run from July 25 to August 10, had already been postponed by two weeks because of concerns about the hot weather. They will start on August 8 and finish on August 24.
Mr Wang said more than three million overseas visitors, including 20,000 athletes, coaches and 30,000 journalists, were expected in the capital for the Games.
On the question of martial arts being added to official competition, he said the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had turned down Beijing's request.
'We are still in talks with the IOC to bring martial arts to the 2008 Games simply as a performance,' Xinhua quoted him as saying.
Mr Wang caught many by surprise by saying he was more concerned about the behaviour of Beijing citizens than traffic problems. He was probably referring to a lantern festival stampede in Miyun county earlier this year and spectators' indifference to amateur runners who collapsed during the recent Beijing International Marathon. Two runners died.
Another problem the mayor must solve is finding a venue for the football final, which clashes with the Games' closing ceremony in the main Olympic stadium, dubbed the bird's nest.