SCOTT SIMON, Host:
This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Coming up, Tito Puente. He was the law when it came to hot Latin sounds.
B: men's marathon and gold-medal games for the U.S. men's volleyball team and a certain group of NBA stars. These have been among the most watched and anticipated games in history. And among the questions, of course, is how would China handle it all? NPR's Frank Langfitt joins us from Beijing. Frank, thanks for being with us.
FRANK LANGFITT: Hi, Scott.
SIMON: And first, just rapidly, run off how the sports went.
LANGFITT: I think extremely well. I mean, the two big stars, obviously, Michael Phelps- seven world records, eight gold - Hussein Bolt - these three world records in the sprint events. They were really spectacular performances, and they rewrote the record books in their sports. I remember I was in the Bird's Nest for the 200 meters, and watching Bolt sort of come around the turn and then just sort of sprint away from all the competition was extraordinary.
The Chinese have had a great games. They've got 47 gold medals, a lot more than the U.S. and a lot more than anyone else. And the other thing is the big concern, of course, was pollution. I mean, I had visions of people sort of like not even being able to finish the marathon. But the women's marathon went pretty well. The main problem there was humidity, not the smog.
SIMON: Of course, this was seen as a test of how the host country can deliver on its promises. So first, at a technical level, how did the Chinese government run the games?
LANGFITT: Very well. You know, they had - the venues themselves are really eye-catching. They're not just places to watch sports. They're architectural statements. People have, of course, seen the Bird's Nest and the Water Cube on TV. One of the other things they did is, as you know, the history of the country and particularly this regime, it's all about mass mobilization, and they mass mobilized thousands and thousand of volunteers who were bending over backwards for all the visitors and particularly the reporters.
You know, one of my volunteer moments was when I was trying to get to team handball. And I was probably a mile from the venue and I - there was a couple of students in a golf cart. I flagged them down. They took me straight to the media entrance. And so it was that sort of, you know, remarkable courtesy and service that we all got from them and also just a tremendous efficiency.
SIMON: But let me jump on the word you used Frank, volunteers. Are they really volunteers?
LANGFITT: I think they are volunteers. I would love to have sat in on their training because I think that they probably got, you know, quasi-military training because they are - it's almost like an arm - I mean, army is a good word to use. It's like an army of volunteers. Just try to put your tray in the trash; they will take it from you, they will take everything from you. I mean, it's very regimented. At the same time, you know, when you're a very busy reporter, it's very nice to have people helping you with these things.
SIMON: This all raises the question. There was, of course, some hope that giving China the Olympics would encourage openness and responsiveness and honoring dissidents. Did that happen?
LANGFITT: Not at all. I mean, I think one of the hallmarks of the game has been, to some degree, fakery and deception. Beginning, of course, everyone knows in the opening ceremony, that girl was lip-syncing. Someone in the Politburo didn't think the real girl was cute enough. You know, there are still questions lingering over these gymnasts, who according to some Chinese documents are 14 and underage. The International Gymnastics Federation is looking into that.
And you know, the government promised free reporting, but Web sites have been blocked. They set up three protest zones at parks around the city but they haven't approved any applications. And there were two elderly Chinese women who did try to apply, and they've been told by authorities that they're going to be sent to labor camp for a year. Right now, they're still under surveillance in their houses.
SIMON: What does this all say about China in the end?
LANGFITT: I think it's actually a really good snapshot of the country. It's an incredible economy. The people are very hospitable and efficient. It's a very impressive country, but it's got a very insecure regime that doesn't live up to its promises, certainly hasn't in this case, and did the games entirely on its own terms.
SIMON: NPR's Frank Langfitt in Beijing. Thanks very much.
LANGFITT: Happy to do it, Scott.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.