In September 1993 I was sent from The South China Morning Post in Hong Kong to cover the first Beijing bid for the Olympics.
I was a rookie news reporter who knew just about nothing about sport, but I had, three and a half months before, been assigned to do a daily “100 days to the Beijing 2000 bid” countdown, with a new locally generated story every day.
After I had interviewed every potential olympic and paralympic athlete in Hong Kong that still left about 93 columns to find, each written with increasing desperation and I am ashamed to say even on one occasion involving cajoling one of the big hotels to make a “Beijing 2000″ chocolate cake. My reward was to be sent to Monte Carlo to cover the vote.
I remember how, on my way out of the airport in Nice, there was a shortage of trolleys. But a nice Englishman suggested I put my bag on his trolley and as he pushed it towards the buses, I asked him whether he too was going to the Olympic meeting. He said he was with the Manchester 2000 bid. When I got onto the press bus and he into another, the British journalists who had been preening themselves on the plane from London looked extremely impressed.
“How did YOU know Bobby Charlton?” asked the man from the Press Association.
Sydney, of course, was awarded the 2000 Olympics. I remember going to the Australian party that night and an Ozzie athlete telling the barman: “don’t worry about the champagne glasses, mate. I’ll just take the bottle.”
The Chinese had cancelled their party int the room next door, but halfway through the evening, I found the Manchester party in a smaller room down the corridor, with Britain’s finest athletes – including Sebastian Coe and Chris Boardman – sitting in thoughtful mood. Sir Bobby Charlton spotted me as I stood peering in at the door. “You again! Come and join us!” he called out.
They poured more wine, and Bobby led the whole team in a rowsing refrain of “Always look on the Bright Side of Life.” I had left Britain two years before, and it was ten years before I would return to live. But I had never felt prouder to be British.
Sometimes you can never know what will happen. And it is, probably, one of the best ways to go through life, even when it’s looking pretty gloomy out there to say, “Well, it doesn’t look like it, but maybe this is for the best after all. Maybe one day we’ll raise a glass to what just happened.”
Of course, Sydney 2000 was brilliant, and the Chinese had their Olympics in 2008 – a lucky number in China – which came at exactly the right time for their athletes and infrastructure. And if only the British had known in 1993 that their time would come too. And it would be a triumph.
What a wonderful story!!