Beijing Diary, Aug 10, Day 2: My journey into Beijing, Visiting Omega, by Larry Eder


Well, the first full day has been eventful! Read on about my travels and travails....

Beijing Diary
August 10, 2008

Greetings from rainy Beijing! The wonders of moisture is that; a) the weather has cooled to human levels, b) smog/fog is still there and c) humidity is cut to nearly human levels.

I just spent the afternoon at the Omega press conference, and then am now ensconced in my home away from home, the MPC, the main press centre, which is an easy walk to the Bird's Nest. The Main Press Centre has a post office, restaurants, sponsor rooms, federation rooms, pharmacy, medical assistance, you name it, they have it.

I am sitting next to the one and only James O'Brien, publisher of Winged Foot magazine, one of our RN publications. James has a whole group of NYAC athletes to write about, including fencers, wrestlers, water polo players and modern pentathloners.

This place will go twenty four hours a day. And it gets crazier as we get to the real part of the Olympics ( my prejudice)-the nine days of track & field. During my travels today, I can impart to you a bit more the color and behind the scenes info that you expect from

My residence in Shinyi is an enclave that houses ex patriots from US, UK, very wealthy Chinese nationals and party officials. The level of wealth was illustrated during my walk as I went by one nice, two story dwelling with three Audi sedans, a Mercedes S class and a VW.

The level of security in Shinyi was omnipresent, but not over whelming. The security forces were young, friendly, on foot and on bike. As I took a taxi from Shinyi to central Beijing ( about an hour in traffic), the taxi was 90 rnb (Yuan), which was about eight U.S. dollars! As we came closer and closer to central Beijing, we saw more and more police, security volunteers and regular Army. The regular Army soldiers were at attention most of the time, and sometimes, it was every fifty meters that there was a police officer, security officer or Army officer. And that did not count the volunteers, and other helpers.

The driver and I had a heck of a time finding the place, on a ancient little side street in central Beijing, a few blocks from Tianamman Square. I went into a modest Chinese restaurant door and went through two small, but nice plazas before we hit the China Club, in Xi Dan. Each doorway a different employee would meet the media, and walk them to the next room, careful to avoid the wooden step before hitting the old stone walkways. I will cover the Omega event in a later column.

The largest taxi company in Beijing has these brand new Audi sedans, that are ultramarine blue and tan. You see them lined up everywhere. Even in the suburbs, I waited two minutes for a taxi. I also carry cards with the addresses of all my travels in Chinese. Actually, my first stop, I turned on my computer as I had the Omega residence in Chinese on a pdf.

Omega, the time keeper of the Olympics, a lesson in the creative process....

Omega has been the official timekeeper of the Olympic Games since 1932. Notice that they do not talk about being a sponsor, as they told me this afternoon, the IOC has asked them to be the official timekeeper since 1932, for track and field, swimming and bicycling. They are also using the newest in sports timing for the bike races, race walks and marathon racers as well.

My press conference today was not about sports timing, but a brilliant tie in with a project called the Solar Impulse. This is a project, funded by Omega, Deutsche Bank and Solvay, a pharmaceuticals company also heavily invested in cutting edge polymers and plastics. They are supporting ( along with a group of companies), to the tune of $140 million US ($100 million already funded) a plane that can fly around the world, day and night on solar power! A plane that flies with no fuel!

What was fascinating to me was listening to the two gentleman behind the idea, Bertrand Picard, a psychiatrist and aeronaut and Andre Borschberg, an engineer, who is also trained as fighter pilot as well as a professional helicopter and jet pilot.

The first prototype of the solar powered plane will be finished by fall 2009, when they will try and stay in the air for 24 hours, on battery power. The plane, with a 61 meter wingspan, has solar cells in its entire length, on a sunny day, giving the plane the ability to have the power of about 200 30 watt light bulbs every 24 hours of flight. This means that this modern plane wil have the equivalent horsepower of the Wright brother's plane from 1903-about 12 horsepower! This on a plane with the wingspan of an Airbus A340, on a plane constructed from carbon fibre, and traveling at the pedestrian speed of 70 kilometres an hour, or about 45 miles an hour. The plane would fly at 8,500 to 9,000 meters during the day, or 28,000 to 33,000 feet during the day and about 9,000 feet at night.

The idea for the plane and the cooperation of three such companies is to promote alternative energy sources, but also there is much more at stake, I believe. It is, as Picard and Borschberg so elegantly put it, to encourage the process of creativity and exploration.

Bertrand Picard noted, " The challenge of the 21rst century is to combine human creativity and pioneering spirit to develop the quality of life to which present and future generations are entitled."

The creative process? Fifty engineers from Omega have been involved in the propulsion system. Under the wings of the Solar Impulse are four gondolas, each with a motor, a plymer lithium battery with 70 accumulators, plus a management system controlling the charge and discharge and temperature. Each motor can reach a maximum of 12 horsepower. The gearbox limits rotation of each 3.5 diameter twin bladed propeller to 200-400 rpm. In the thinking of everything realm, the fifty engineers also figured out how to thermally insulate the batteries to keep them working despite -40 degrees Centigrade temperatures at 30,000 feet!

Oh, and the second stage, in 2011, will propose a flight where the plane, the Solar Impulse, the Zero Fuel airplane, will circle the world in five to six days, stopping in five to six continents ( well, if the Chinese allow them to land in Southern China).

The idea is fascinating! And on an Olympic stage, where billions will spend the next seventeen days glued to tv screens in incredulity as athlete after athlete challenges themselves to new personal heights and levels of competition, this announcement makes true sense. Sporting events are looking at ways to have a smaller carbon footprint.

Bertrand was ironic, but also quite true, " At one time, the majority of the world believed that the Earth was flat, then there were many who said that manned flight, in the air, around the Earth and to the moon were impossible. To explore also means to change old habits, which will be very important to the young who will come up or need to come up with new energy sources."

Consider this, way back in 1939, the late Brutus Hamilton, one of the most well known American track coaches, wrote his list of ultimate times. On the list was 10.2 for 100 meters, a 45.4 for the 400 meters and a 4:01.3 for the mile. He did not believe, nor did most scientists, believe in 1939, that a four minute mile could be not be done by a human being.

So, what does this have to do with a little timing company called Omega? Well, dear friends, Omega is now Omega Electronics, and you know the brand name Swatch, as well! They are doing GPS, chip timing as well as starting blocks in track & field, timing and measurements in track and field, and swimming, among others. The changes in time keeping have been extraordinary over the past sixty-six years of Omega's involvement in the Olympics, and the challenges are to keep up with the ever changing sports landscape.

A brand like Omega who links with a project that challenges the creative process to find alternative ways to use energy and materials will see positive effects from consumers recognizing Omega's support of new forms of energy exploration. And in the twenty first century, it is a good thing to do.


From Chinese TV ( Saturday night)

I wanted Tyson Gay marching in the opening ceremony, on tape Saturday night. Also, on the English speaking version of Chinese TV, the American team was complemented for being so " dignified" in how they presented themselves as they went around the track. Apparently, the Chinese commentators have seen some tapes of earlier US teams and their not so dignified appearances in Opening ceremonies. Well, that was a good start, Mr. Ueberoth. Keep up the good work.


US tourist killed

On Saturday, about 12.20 p.m., a Chinese man killed an American male tourist and injured two American women. The man then committed suicide by jumping from the second story of the tourist site, the Drum Tower. Chinese police arrived soon after and rushed the two women to the hospital. The USOC website identified the murdered man only as a relative of a U.S. volleyball coach.


for a peaceful world....

Vladimir Putin, the Russian Prime minister, visited Beijing for the past several days, leaving Saturday to oversee the open warfare between the Russians and Georgians in the province of south-Ossetia, a Pro Russian province, where 2,000 people were reportedly killed in fighting on Friday and Saturday.

Putin was shown in the IOC newspaper, the Olympian, meeting with Russian athletes in the Olympic village. Putin had promised all Russian gold medalists $150,000 from Russia during that visit. It was also noted that he had met with Chinese Prime minister Wen Jiabao and US President George W. Bush to update them on the increasing tensions and now, all out battles in south Ossetia. IOC spokeswomen Giselle Davies reminded the world, " It is contrary to what the Olympic ideal stands for..we can only present the ideal of how sport brings people together. This is a complex issue and it is not for the IOC to give a perspective on what has been happening."

Concerns have been raised on how the Georgian-Russian conflict with affect Soci, Georgia and the 2014 Winter Games. Sochi, a Russian Black Sea resort, is located near the western border of Georgia.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet and U.S. President George W. Bush were among the world leaders who visited their countries' teams and the opening ceremonies on Friday. President Bush actually tried a bit of volleyball on Saturday. There reviews were mixed ( of his
volleyball play).


Level playing field....

Greek sprinter Ekaterina Thanou, who was involved in the sad but comical motorbike
injury (now thought to be faked) way back in Athens 2004 has had her credentials removed and she is not being allowed to compete here. 4,500 tests will be done for banned drugs in Beijing 2008, ten percent will be done, reportedly, for Human growth hormone. HGH has been very hard to detect.

With the recent sting on seven Russian athletes ( up to five more to follow, according to our sources), it is apparent that IAAF, IOC, USOC, USADA and WADA means business. My belief is that this will be the cleanest Olympics ever. The key now is to focus on out of competition testing on the most elite of the sport.

Who really won the footwear wars in Beijing? Can you say Li MIng?

Well, according to David Ownes, former FT correspondent, Li MIng's opening ceremony specatcular, when LI MIng, the 45 year old millionaire, former Olympic four time gold medalist, and the king of the Chinese sports footwear business, where LI MIng's brand is larger than both adidas and Nike (info according to adidas). Read his well written piece, linked right here:

Final thoughts....

It seems that no matter how much one plans, reality does get in the way. On the second day of the Olympics, a senseless murder in downtown Beijing, and a few thousand miles away, in south-Ossetia, all out warfare between the Russian and Georgian military, where approximately two thousand civilians have been killed. As world leaders plead for caution, it is a good place to remind the world, that in the ancient Olympics, all warfare would stop among the city-states, for the duration of the Games.

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