On August 8, 2008 at 8pm, the opening ceremony for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing commenced. The stunning Zhang Yimou-directed ceremony — which had an extremely auspicious start time — officially kicked off the first Olympic Games to ever be hosted in the Middle Kingdom.
The motto of the 2008 Olympic Games was "One World, One Dream."
The 2008 games were a milestone achievement for China, and presented the perfect opportunity for the country to strut its stuff on the world stage.
Within China, there was lots of hype in the lead up to the event. For the 100-day countdown, a music video for the feature song "Beijing Welcomes You" was released. The star-studded video featured Jackie Chan, Eason Chan and more.
In the spirit of the Olympic Games, Beijing experienced massive infrastructure and transport renovations, establishment of new facilities, institutional advancement and the birthing of a new volunteer culture.
The Birds Nest Stadium and Water Cube stadiums were two examples of Beijing’s dedication to creating an honorable image before the world. Both centers were specially designed for the Olympics with Chinese traditional values in mind.
READ MORE: 2008 Beijing Olympic Venues Then and Now
The National Stadium, aka the 'Bird’s Nest,' was the chief stage for football and track and field. The appearance of the stadium was fashioned to appear as a larger-than-life nest that nurses humans, with the tallest point being 68.5 meters (225 feet). These days, the stadium is still used for international and domestic sports competitions, as well as other recreational activities.
The Bird's Nest. Image via Wikimedia Commons
The National Aquatics Center, otherwise known as the 'Water Cube,' was another iconic structure built for the 2008 games. Shaped like an ice cube, the theme of the building revolved around Chinese conceptualizations of a round heaven and square Earth.
The Water Cube. Image via Wikimedia Commons
Unlike these two Olympic stadiums, not all are still in use.
A massive international audience — estimated at over 4.3 billion — tuned in to watch the games. During the 2008 Olympics, China earned a total of 100 medals: 51 gold, 21 silver and 28 bronze. These numbers represent China's largest ever medal tally. The event was also first time for several countries to appear on the medal table.
The 2008 Beijing Olympics medals. Each was designed with a ring of jade. Image via Wikimedia Commons
It was also a big year for some of the participating athletes. At the Water Cube, American swimmer Michael Phelps cemented his Olympic legacy by picking up a whopping eight gold medals in aquatic events, setting a new record for individual gold medal haul in a single Olympic Games.
Image via Bryan Allison/Flickr
Over at the Bird's Nest, Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt broke several records, winning the men's 100-meter dash with the ground-breaking time of 9.59 seconds, 200-meter race in 19.30 seconds and the 4x100-meter relay in 37.10 seconds. Bolt set new world records in all three races.
All of these positive aspects of the 2008 games have left a lasting legacy for China in Olympics history. But momentarily putting this notion aside, there were some interesting controversies that took place throughout the three-week sporting event.
One of the more notable scandals took place on the evening of the opening ceremony, when reports emerged that Lin Miaoke, an adorable nine-year-old Chinese singer, had lip-synched her entire performance. The original audio for the ceremony had actually come from seven-year-old Yang Peiyi.
After the scandal sparked international outrage, Beijing's Olympic organizing committee found itself scrambling for an explanation.
Chen Qigang, chief music director of the games, would later tell a local Beijing radio station how a top government official had wanted Lin’s voice to "change." In support of the idea, Chen said: "We combined the perfect voice and the perfect performance. The reason was for the national interest.”
There was also another big controversy over the ages of the athletes on the Chinese women's gymnastics team. Typically, Olympic gymnasts are at least 16 years of age. The rules of the games require for there to be proof of age by documentation.
But before the 2008 games even took place, journalists around the globe began questioning the eligibility of Yang Yilin, He Kexin and Jiang Yuyuan as Olympic gymnasts because they were listed as being younger than 16 on a Chinese sports registration form.
Lu Shanzen, China’s Coach, defended her trainees, saying at the time: “It’s unfair that people keep saying the Chinese are too young to compete. If they think they can tell someone’s age just by looking at them, well, if you look at the foreign athletes, they have so much more muscles than the Chinese. They are so strong. Do you then say that they are doping?”
Following an investigation by International Gymnastics Federation a month after the Olympics concluded, members of the Chinese team were exonerated.
Remember the Fuwa? The 2008 Olympic mascots were spotted everywhere. Their names— Bei Bei, Jing Jing, Huan Huan, Ying Ying and Ni Ni — were a play on the phrase of 'Beijng Welcomes You.' Image via Wikimedia Commons
The 2008 Beijing Olympics went down as one of the biggest games in recent memory. Luckily, we may have a chance to experience something like this again when the Olympics return to Beijing in 2022, making the capital the first city to host both the summer and winter Games.
[Top image via Wikimedia Commons]
For more This Day in History stories, click here.