What a year 2006 was, a time when the spirit of the Beijing Olympics became a palatable particle competing for space in the smogged-out megatropolis. The year saw much talk about the 'Green Games', and in the capital we were constantly informed things were steadily improving for 2008, even though pollution levels hit record highs on Monday. But when you sign up to the challenge of hosting the world's biggest sporting event you have to possess some faith in what the government's spin machine is constantly telling you via its statistics, surveys and memorandum of agreement signings. Yet only the most myopic cynic would strenuously deny the city's facade did improve during 2006; more buildings, roads and pavements were finished, more flower beds and greens were dug, and there was a scattering of urban art. And is it my fuzzy imagination, but did spitting, smoking, queue jumping, and jaywalking become less, and smiling more? Is it that during 2006 more taxis drivers were able to offer multilingual greetings, rather than a dubious shortcut? Umm ... we all want to believe and have faith in the claims that the greatest makeover for the greatest show on earth made great strides in the past 12 months. And we must presume Bocog, the games' organiser+-, wanted us to place faith in it when we were given 22 Olympic stories from which to vote for our favourite 'Top 10 of 2006' by next Thursday. There are obvious and worthy candidates among them. The Qingdao sailing and Beijing softball test events were resounding successes in that all went according to plan, logistically speaking; a bit more wind for the sailing and a bit more hope for softball's Olympic future are the only moot points. Among the shortlist is the fantastic official news in September and again earlier this month, for the thousands of journalists, resident or otherwise, readying their pens and note pads for August 2008: The right to roam and interview with neither hindrance nor permission was given a double-happiness promise from Beijing Olympic chief Liu Qi, and other prominent members of the ruling Communist Party - a pledge 'to advance and promote the Olympic Spirit during the Beijing Olympic Games and the preparatory period'. Such a precedent whets the speculative appetite among the world's legion of China watchers ... democratic elections by 2009, or 2019, or sometime in between perhaps; freedom of expression and freedom to peacefully demonstrate against a social or personal ill? These are the kind of questions we will be musing over during this holiday period. The state media triumphantly gave a run down of the 'Top 10 Olympic News Stories' shortlist: The creation team for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympic Games was officially formed, boasted papers and websites this week; Fu Niu Lele, the official mascot of the Beijing Paralympics Games, was unveiled; the ticket prices of the Beijing Olympic Games sports sessions were made public; significant progress was made in the construction of Olympic venues such as the Bird's Nest and Water Cube. In short, numerous events took place in the various aspects of Olympic preparation. Indeed, there were many stories of note. It's a shame, though, that the really good ones are not up for candidacy. Missing is the bombshell sacking of vice-mayor and Olympic senior chief Liu Zhihua for corruption in June. Also, there's no mention of the war of attrition between residents on 'Olympic land' handed eviction notices and goon squads armed with bulldozers and pickaxe handles. What about the sudden mascot name change of the 'Friendlies' to the Fuwa, or the hideous reality TV show to find coxswains for the Chinese rowing teams? Why are we offered 'Chinese government attaches great importance to Olympic preparation' when we want to cast a vote for the decree that said Beijing-based military units would wage a campaign to clean up posters, but would turn a blind eye to knock-off 2008 merchandise. And why are we given 'China names 556 Model Schools of Beijing 2008 Olympic Education' when we would rather mark our X on the box detailing the drunken car crash arrest of table tennis star Kong Linghui, and then his sudden retirement? What about the lengthy, drawn out and tedious appointment - finally - of Olympic football team coach Ratomir Dujkovic? Or the torchbearer of Chinese supremacy, Liu Xiang, and his historic hurdle into the record books? No, not a whisper of these. Instead, we're offered 'Beijing sees preliminary achievements in urban revamp programme'.Also up for a news gong, if we see fit, is the item that reported Bocog and Hong Kong had reached 'agreements and understanding' for staging the 2008 equestrian showcase. There's the 'Fourth Beijing 2008 Olympic Cultural Festival' at the magical Great Wall gagging for your vote - and also the gripping 'Bocog offers 180 jobs through open recruitment' splash. But what about the August earthquake that shook the dust off the Bird's Nest and other new buildings? Must we be forced to vote for 'Paralympics Marketing Programme launched' instead? Must we waste a vote on 'Construction of city transportation system in progress', when we could opt for 'China bans Olympic hopefuls from making money because such capitalist pursuits interfere with 2008 gold medal challenge'? Of course, 2006 has been a great year. The Olympics could be staged next week, let alone in the summer of 2008. IOC chiefs made several visits and could hardly contain their astonishment at the speed and detail of preparations. Indeed, it's unprecedented. International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge and company must have shaken their heads in despair when they heard the London 2012 preparations are already embroiled in money troubles and infighting. But that's what the Olympic preparations are all about - the good, the bad and the truly embarrassing - and knowing all about it. As the 20,000-plus journalists about to descend on Olympic China over the next 18 months will readily demonstrate, in order to show respect and have faith in a host nation we'll need to see it warts and all in 2007.