Buying Games tickets

Tickets to the Olympic Games are allocated by country, then distributed by those countries' Olympic committees or their authorized agents.

The official broker for the U.S. and Canada is CoSport, a New Jersey-based company.

From April to June, the company took applications for tickets. In October, it will begin selling what tickets are left on a first-come, first-served basis.

Prices range from $5 to more than $100, depending on the event.

Adam Wixted, CoSport's director, declined to estimate what percentage of tickets would be left, saying the company was still in the phase of allocating and confirming sales from the first round.

Individuals are limited to eight tickets per event and a maximum of 48 tickets. There is a limit of two tickets per applicant to the opening and closing ceremonies.

Some resellers are also hawking tickets on the Internet, but the U.S. Olympic Committee said it couldn't guarantee the authenticity of tickets purchased from anyone other than CoSport.

For more information, go to www.cosport.com.

On the north side of Beijing, a stadium designed to look like a huge bird's nest is nearing completion. Nearby stands the new aquatics center, with walls made of plastic rectangles that look like huge water bubbles, and a sprawling complex comprising sports venues, administration buildings and an apartment village for athletes and Olympic officials.

The massive construction project is just one of many efforts under way as China prepares to host the Summer Olympics for the first time.

In the hutongs, the traditional neighborhoods in the heart of the city, retirees are learning English so they can help the 40,000 or so visitors the country is expecting the Games to draw.

Factories and mines are being closed to help reduce air pollution.

Automobile emission standards, previously based on European specifications, have been increased.

A huge wind farm is being developed to provide power to Olympic venues.

The Chinese Meteorological Association has even begun test-firing clay rockets into the atmosphere in an attempt to thin rain clouds and pollution.

Acutely mindful of the barrage of negative international press about human rights issues, pollution and toxic contamination of toys, food and other "Made in China" products, government and Olympic officials are intent on making sure that the 2008 Olympics outshine previous Games and give Beijing validation as one of the world's great cities.

"The most significance of the Olympics is to let the world know China and Beijing," said Li Jicheng, market development director for the Beijing Tourism Administration.

To make sure it's a success, said Wang Hui, executive deputy director of Beijing's Olympic organizing committee's communications department, people are "working 'round the clock" on preparations for the Games, which are almost a year away.

Efficient and ahead of schedule

One thing the Chinese government is known for is getting things done. Free of the red tape that often bogs down big projects in democratic societies, construction and infrastructure projects backed by the Chinese government can proceed at paces practically unheard of in the Western world.

Unlike some past host cities that were still scurrying to finish venues as little as a month before the opening ceremonies, Beijing's venues are expected to be nearly complete by the end of this year, a full eight months before the games open on Aug. 8.

And unlike Western democracies, China's government has the unchallenged power to implement sweeping reforms as it struggles to boost the country's image in advance of this gala coming-out party.

"For example," Hui said, "a chief steel factory has been relocated. Another carbon-emitting factory has been closed. These were some of the largest factories in Beijing."

The government has also tightened emissions standards for the country's rapidly growing number of automobiles.

They are working on programs to plant trees as far away as Mongolia, where dust storms form, and they have ordered construction sites closed on windy days, Hui said. They are also considering closing several coal mines.

In advance of air quality tests by Olympic officials, the government is executing strategies to keep Beijing's 1 million vehicles off its crowded streets.

"We have already achieved big improvements," Hui said. "Usually we only have 100 clear days a year. Last year we had 200."

Such reforms are essential, since China is promoting next year's Games as the "green Olympics."

To that end, the country is building wind farms to help power the venues and incorporating some of the latest in environmental protections into its Olympic buildings, Hui said.

Despite those efforts, the country is suffering from unprecedented pollution levels, and international travelers will no doubt be wary of the safety of Chinese food products, which have been the subject of a string of highly publicized recalls in the U.S. and elsewhere.

Hui says the safety concerns have been overblown.

"Food, hygiene issues are not as serious as reported," she said. "The government has attached great importance on food and hygiene."

The reason for the high levels of international publicity about Chinese products is that "the government is more confident to expose problems, which shows determination to have everything under control," Hui said.

She noted that the government was aggressively punishing high-level officials deemed responsible for the problems.

During the summer, the former head of China's food and drugs oversight agency was executed for taking bribes.

"Everybody is trying to make every effort to get it under control," she said.

Chinese officials have been planning the Games since before their winning bid was announced in 2001. They want everything to be the biggest and the best in Olympic history.

Hui noted that 205 countries were expected to participate, the most in the history of the Games.

China has enlisted filmmaker Steven Spielberg to help design its opening ceremonies, which Hui said were expected to include the longest torch-relay lighting ceremony in Olympic history.

China will pick up the torch in Athens on March 25. It will then be taken from "Beijing to Europe, around the globe and then back again" by air, boat, horseback, every possible form of transportation, Hui said.

Tough tickets and pricey rooms

As with all Olympic Games, a major challenge is affordable lodging and tickets.

That may be an even bigger challenge in Beijing, as it will be the first opportunity for much of the country's 1.3 billion citizens to attend Olympic events, since travel outside the country is highly restricted.

"Everyone wants to see the Olympics because it's never been in China," said Yimei Guo, general manager of U. S. operations for China Travel Service, China's oldest and largest travel service.

Last month, the Olympic committee finalized its lodging requirements, releasing the remaining available rooms in and around Beijing for travel companies to begin booking.

Guo said there would be about 26,000 rooms available in nearly 5,000 hotels around Beijing. About 10,000 of those will be in two- to five-star hotels.

The tourism administration estimates that 16,000 to 18,000 rooms will be needed, meaning that current supply is more than ample, Guo said.

Even central Beijing still has rooms, "if you can pay high rates," she said. "It really depends how much you can pay."

English-language newspaper China Daily recently reported that Beijing officials were concerned that some hotels were planning to raise their rates as much 10 times the normal rate. But Guo estimates the price increases will be closer to three or four times the normal rates.

The only certainty is that prices are going to be unpredictable. Most bookings require a minimum 50% deposit, according to China Travel Service.

Tickets to the actual events, however, may be a lot harder to come by than hotel rooms.

Each country gets an allotment of tickets, and China's share is being doled out through a national lottery. To guard against scalping, those who win tickets will be required to show their national identification when entering the venue.

Guo recommends that international spectators get tickets through their countries (see report, above), after which agencies like hers can help book travel, hotel rooms and side tours around Beijing and other parts of China.

Despite the growing international media attention to problems in China, excitement in Beijing is mounting as the final countdown to the Games begins.

In hotel lobbies, promotional videos running on a loop tout the upcoming games and how they will "cement Beijing's place among the world's great cities."

A huge sign at an intersection near the Olympic Village and the Chinese Olympic Committee's headquarters count down the days, hours and seconds until the Games opening ceremonies: Aug. 8, 2008, at 8 p.m.

The triple-eight date is significant in China, as the number is associated with good fortune. And good fortune is indeed what Chinese officials feel they had when they landed the event.

"All the world and the media will focus on Beijing," said Li. "Four billion people will be watching. This is very good exposure. No other event could have such effect."

To contact reporter Jeri Clausing, send e-mail to [email protected].

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