When Beijing hosted its first World Cup triathlon last weekend as part of the city's preparations for the Olympics, the weather was glorious, the setting stunning, and the racing sublime - but behind the scenes international officials were far from satisfied with their China debut. 'This event is nowhere near being up to Olympic standard,' said Les McDonald, president of the International Triathlon Union (ITU). 'They say they want to host a great Olympic Games. Well, they have a long way to go to get there.' McDonald has a string of complaints for the local organisers, running the gamut from track preparation, to marketing, to spectator comfort. 'China has an emphasis on sports they are good at,' he said, explaining why the necessary resources are not put into triathlon. 'And they tend to see triathlon as not being a big sport. But it is big - in TV rights it is huge. More than 1.4 billion people around the world will watch this race.' When ITU officials came to Beijing only a few days ahead of the race the track was 'a gravel pit', according to the union's Loreen Barnett. 'We had to work around the clock to get it ready. In fairness, we had 600 local volunteers and they were all working hard, but they seem to think in a different way. It was highly stressful,' she said. The 1.5km swim, 40km cycle and 10km run - held in and around the Ming Tombs reservoir in the Changping district in north Beijing - attracted 132 top athletes from 28 countries. Water quality was another major concern for the athletes and the ITU. 'The water was filthy. They call it a reservoir but that's not drinking water,' McDonald said. 'I don't know if it's safe to swim in. We need to do a water quality test as soon as possible.' However, an official of the China Triathlon Sports Association was quick to hit back. 'McDonald is not a polite man, he doesn't treat Chinese people with respect. He has been so critical and has been trying to find fault in the small details,' said the official, who asked not to be named. On the allegations that the water was not clean enough, he said: 'I don't accept the water is dirty. If McDonald thinks the water is dirty, he should bring water from Canada.' But the official admitted that some improvements had to be made. 'Because this is the first time we have hosted this event it might not be up to the standards of other countries, we are still a distance from perfection. But in 2008 we will try to make it an excellent event,' he said. Athletes were also peeved the local organisers changed the schedule at the last moment, meaning the men's race started at 9am instead of 12.30pm. 'When you're focusing on things like your sleep patterns and meal times, you don't need race times to be juggled about at the 11th hour,' grumbled one American triathlete. Smaller teething problems abounded: crowd-control barriers kept toppling over in the light breeze, there was nowhere in the vicinity to buy refreshments, the sound system was distorted, and the interpreters who were meant to provide spectators with Chinese summaries of the English commentary just giggled and ran away from the microphone, saying it was too difficult to remember all the foreigners' names. Not that there were many spectators to entertain. While it is not uncommon for World Cup events to attract 50,000-plus in other parts of the world only a few hundred turned up to Beijing's inaugural event, mostly schoolchildren who had been bussed in by the local government. But the Chinese official explained: 'Triathlon is not very popular in China, not many people understand it. Also, as it was the first time we hosted this event, we were very concerned about security, we did not know what would happen if large crowds turned up, so we wanted to keep the crowds small to ensure safety and security.' The event was not widely covered in the local press, and overseas media were hardly encouraged. When the South China Morning Post requested accreditation to cover the race a surly official from the Changping government's propaganda department asked: 'Does the reporter have any political motives? I don't know you, it's like you just dropped down from the sky. How can I let you cover this event?' He reluctantly granted permission after numerous phone calls and verifying that proper credentials were in place. The good news for the local organisers is the athletes liked the course. Before the 2008 games local organisers have agreed to build a new road around the edge of the water and a grandstand on the dam, which will enable tens of thousands of spectators to watch the most exciting phases of the race. With pagodas peeking down from craggy mountains into a bowl of still blue water, the setting promises to be one of the most impressive of the Olympics. Despite the behind-the-scenes tensions the spectators were treated to a wonderful day of racing, with Hunter Kemper from the US taking the men's race in a sprint finish, just edging out Frederic Belaubre of France for his second World Cup win of the season. In her last ever triathlon, the fairytale of American Sheila Taormina dominated the build-up to the women's race. The 34-year-old won Olympic gold in Atlanta in 1996 in the 4 x 200 metres freestyle swim. She later switched to the swim-bike-run game and in her five-year triathlon career has competed in two Olympics and won three world championships. She now hopes to become the first person in history to compete in the Olympic Games in three different sports, currently training for the modern pentathlon. She is on course to make the US team for the Beijing games. Gunning for gold in her final triathlon, Taormina got off to a sizzling start and held the lead for all of the swim and most of the bike race, only to be overtaken by 20-year-old Portuguese superstar Vanessa Fernandes just before the start of the 10km run. Taormina battled hard to close the gap but could not match the youngster's speed and had to be content with silver. As if to prove to the world that she is human after all, Taormina fell to the ground at the finish line and vomited and dry wretched for several minutes, before brushing herself off and waving and smiling at supporters, shrugging as if to say it's all in a day's work. Kemper, too, showed he had left nothing on the course. After taking a few wobbly steps behind the finish line he slumped to the ground and had to be slowly helped back on to his feet. The final technical glitch of the day was saved for the winner's podium where Kemper was proudly standing watching 'Old Glory' being raised at the foothill of mountains a few miles from the Great Wall. 'And now, the American national anthem,' boomed the announcer triumphantly. But no Star-Spangled Banner came - just silence. 'And now, the American national anthem,' she said again. More silence, but more awkward this time. The seconds ticked into minutes as a huddle of people worked frantically over the sound desk. 'Is this a comment on American foreign policy?' one wag loudly asked. Half embarrassed, half amused officials joked that Kemper should sing the anthem himself. 'And now, the American national anthem,' the announcer said once again, this time in a tone that indicated she didn't believe it was coming herself. But come it did - finally. And the first few bars were drowned out by a communal sigh of relief.