Youngsters are happy to toil seven days a week to ensure the next Games are a suitable showcase for the nation No one can ever accuse China of not doing its homework when it comes to big international events and the preparations are in full swing and were so long before the Athens Games. There will be 35 venues for the Olympics, including 30 in Beijing. Of these, 19 will be newly constructed and 12 existing facilities will be renovated or expanded. In addition, 59 training sites will be renovated or expanded and special facilities will be built for the Paralympics. One site that is already up and running is China's National Training Centre of the State Sports General Administration and a visit there shows just how serious China is about making the most of the home advantage. At the far end of the gymnastics hall is a slogan urging athletes to 'practise hard - win glory for the country'. The state-of-the-art facility is so big you have to walk halfway along the hall to read this stirring message. Here in the Olympic training centre is where the real talent is honed. Located at the eastern edge of Beijing's Temple of Hea-ven, the centre looks a bit like a Microsoft campus, with rows of new buildings and playing fields each dedicated to a particular sport - weightlifting, table tennis, badminton, volleyball, soccer. There is a serious hush in the gymnastics hall as the athletes go through their paces. In front of a gallery of 42 portraits of China's World and Olympic champions, three women gymnasts stand to attention as coach Lu Shanzhen gives them their instructions for the weekend. A serious man wearing a white smock and slippers, Lu shuffles over to talk to us. Asked for his opinion about the fantastic facilities, he is nonchalant. 'We've only been in this building since the end of last year. I reckon it's probably the best practice hall in the world at the moment,' says the coach. When it comes to the Olympics, China feels it has some catching up to do. It first competed in the Games in Los Angeles in 1932, but then did not take part again until 1984, again in Los Angeles, after years of self-imposed isolation. China is very keen to make sure it sweeps the board in 2008. The government and the Communist Party are determined the Beijing Games will provide a suitable showcase for the economic miracle of recent years. All of this puts major pressure on competitors to perform. Simon Clegg, chef de mission of the British Olympic Association, visited the centre and was both impressed and anxious about what it means for his country's medal haul. 'What is happening there is frightening in terms of medal potential. We need to be conscious of China as a strong and dominant nation,' he said. China's booming economy is also helping the country's athletes, as it means big investment in facilities such as the Olympic Centre. Ultimately this translates into a big boost for sports that emphasise technique, such as gymnastics. 'Chinese people are good at learning and are very smart. In disciplines requiring a lot of technique, Chinese athletes have always done well because they learn,' says Lu. So what about 2008? The Olympics in Beijing are a national obsession at the moment, with huge areas of the city being completely redeveloped. 'Yes, we're preparing for the Games. Our younger athletes are working with the older ones to get a feel for the atmosphere and what's required of them.' The seven-days-a-week training regime is tough but the athletes seem quite happy. Zhang Nan, the head of the women's team, originally comes from coastal Jiangsu province but is now living in Beijing. The 18-year-old joined the national team in 2001. 'I've been training since I was five. When I started it was tough, but now I'm getting used to it and it's getting easier. Even on Sunday we do some activity, you've got to break a sweat, get warmed up for Monday,' says Zhang. 'After a big event we can go home but otherwise it's not allowed, even for me whose family now lives in Beijing. We're used to it.' Her teammate Lin Li, who is from Guizhou, says their diet is mainly Western. 'The nutritionist encourages us to eat Western food because it's more nutritious. Which is no problem for me, I love Western food,' she says. 'But no jaozi [Beijing ravioli]'.