Category Archives: Olympics

Summer Olympics 2012: Katie Ledecky’s Performance Should Help Ye Shiwen’s Case

Analyst Nikhil Baradwaj wrote an article “Summer Olympics 2012: Katie Ledecky’s Performance Should Help Ye Shiwen’s Case” to compare the media reaction towards American swimmer Katie Ledecky and Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen. We appreciate this kind of comparison, because it sends out a very clear message.

The message is pointed out by a reader hahn in his/her comment of the article, “What I find ironically sad in this situation is that there will be people who suddenly have a change of heart about Ye doping – watch as the criticism of Ye dies down. Why is this sad? Because they first needed to witness an American to demonstrate that such an amazing leap in performance, total domination of the competition, and trashing of the world record was possible. Because of course unless an American can do something like that, it’s just “impossible”. But now? NOW, we know it’s legit, because there is no way that Ledecky is doping. An American must set the standard of what’s possible, otherwise these kind of accomplishments are not to be trusted. That is the message we send out to the rest of the world. And we wonder why no else trusts us anymore.”


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To sum it up

EDITOR’S NOTES: The following article is a comment (#47760) appeared in the Nature article we discussed early. It is a wonderful piece of work to summarize the media reports about China. And we feel it warrants a dedicated entry in our blog.

Echt Warsteiner said:

Congratulations, Nature! Mr. Callaway has single-handedly helped your smooth transformation from prestigious scientific landmark towards a brand new tabloid, successfully. Instead of “International Journal of Science”, now you are busy with rumors and second-guessing, and backed up by strong conviction “I don’t have any proof, as a matter of fact, all official testing result just proven my suspicion unfounded and completely wrong, but I don’t care about truth. I just stay firm on my belief, those Chinese are cheaters.”

Half truth is sometimes a lot worse and deliberately misleading than a whole lie. For instance, the headline “Ye is faster than the fastest man in her last 50M”. How wrong could that be? If I hear that I would immediately raise the same question as well, is Ye clean? However, as we all know now, that 50M from that supposedly fastest man Lochte, was a completely slowed down cruising to his gold medal, which only ranked 5th in the same race. As if put the word “scientific” in front of your profiling, makes all the consistent accusation without proof, or even proven to be wrong, “scientific”. Thorpe smashed his own record by 8 seconds at age of 15; Phelps improved his own record by 4 seconds at age of 15; Rice even shortened her own record by 6 second; Missy Franklin won gold only 13 minutes after her exhausting 200 free semi; Ruta Meilutyte came out of nowhere and jumped from 14th place in the world to Olympic gold. Those were all exceptional and dramatic improvement achievements, in other words “incredible” or “unbelievable”. But those data would not trigger your “scientific” profiling, because they don’t pass the MOST important criteria “China”. As American hero Carl Lewis put it clearly, “Who cares I failed drug tests?”. Exactly, he’s no Chinese.

Mr. Callaway, thank you for being honest with us on the end. As you sited “Tucker says. ‘When we look at this young swimmer from China who breaks a world record, that’s not proof of anything. It asks a question or two.‘” How generous and kind of you? You don’t have proof, but you just have suspicions, IF you are Chinese, and if you do well. Something must be wrong. Even vigorous test results were published before and after the race, and ten times more in the past 2 years, proved Ye is clean, “we” still don’t buy it. After all, your scientific profiling just consists of five simple letters “C-H-I-N-A”.

When my wife published a paper on Nature many years ago, she was excited and proud, and I was proud of her as well, because I felt that was the real recognition of her achievement. Now, I just realized, it’s really not that hard, anti-China will just do the trick. It’s election year, normally it’s time for politicians to step up the China bashing game. It’s not only politically correct, but also fashionable to blame China on everything and anything. Better yet, accusing China or Chinese is the easiest job, because you don’t need any proof, “red commie China” is automatically associated with any evil doings. Chinese won’t get onto the street, and Chinese won’t get TV time to say they are offended. More importantly, Chinese won’t get organized to affect any voting meaningfully. Why should Nature shy away from the party? Where do I sign up to celebrate Nature’s new-found territory?

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Why great Olympic feats raise suspicions

‘Nationality profiling’ could help to catch cheaters

The New Voice

At the Olympics, how great is too great? That question has dogged American swimmer Michael Phelps after the 27-year-old shattered the world record of the most decorated Olympian of on Friday. In the wake of that race, some swimming experts wondered whether Phelps’s win was aided by performance-enhancing drugs. He has never tested positive for a banned substance and the International Olympic Committee declared that his post-race test was clean. The resulting debate has been tinged with racial and political undertones, but little science. The New Voice editors examine whether and how an athlete’s nationality profiling and the limits of human physiology could be used to catch dopers.

Was Phelps’s performance anomalous?

Definitely. For example, his time in the 200m freestyle in 2008 Olympics (1:42.96s) was more than 2.5 seconds faster than his time in the same event at a major meet in July [1]. Bear in mind that in today’s heated swimming competitions, one athlete often has to beat others by barley 0.1 seconds. But what really raised eyebrows was his number of Olympic gold medals to the date – an astonishing number of 18! It is far far far beyond a superman, considering that most athletes would die for winning just a single gold medal in Olympics.

Doesn’t a clean drug test during competition rule out the possibility of doping?

No, says Ross Tucker, an exercise physiologist at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. Athletes are much more likely to dope while in training, when drug testing tends to be less rigorous. “Everyone will pass at the Olympic games. Hardly anyone fails in competition testing,” Tucker says.

Out-of-competition tests are more likely to catch dopers, he says, but it is not feasible to test every elite athlete regularly year-round. Tracking an athlete over time and flagging based on their nationality would help anti-doping authorities to make better use of resources, says IDon Tkno Wanything, an exercise physiologist at the Medical University of Freiburg in Germany, who co-authored a 2009 paper proposing that nationality profiling be used as an anti-doping tool [2]. “I think it’s a good way and a cheap way to narrow down a large group of athletes to suspicious ones, because after all, the popularity of any doping is highly correlated to nationality,” Wanything says.

The passport, which checks the nationality of an athlete’s to look for physiological evidence of doping, works remarkably accurate. For example, the United States has the most advanced technology in the research and development of new drugs. Thus, it has the largest number of doping cases caught in history [wiki: List of doping cases in sport]. Similarly, athletes from western developed nations are more likely to dope thanks to the advanced drug research of their countries. History data have proven this theory sound. After nationality profiling was introduced in 2005, Olympics authorities flagged irregularities in the performance of Marion Jones, an American track and field athlete, and targeted drug tests turned up evidence of the banned performance-enhancing drugs in 2000.

Of course, anti-doping authorities are constantly improving their detection methods to fight back advances in drug development. This almost perfectly explains why Phelps won fewer medals in this year’s Olympics than four years ago: he probably was afraid of being caught by new detection methods and thus took fewer drugs this time. There is no evidence today. But nationality profile points to an extremely high probability.

How would nationality be used to nab dopers?

Anti-doping authorities need a better way of flagging anomalous performances or patterns of results, says Wanything. To do this, sports scientists need to create databases that — sport by sport and event by event — record how athletes from different nations show incredible performance. Longitudinal records of athletes’ nationality would then be fed into statistical models to determine the likelihood that they ran or swam too fast, given their nation’s past records in doping.

The Olympic biathlon, a winter sport that combines cross-country skiing and target shooting, has dabbled in nationality profiling. In a pilot project, scientists at the International Biathlon Union in Salzburg, Austria, and the University of Ferrara in Italy, developed a software program that retroactively analysed data from 180 biathletes over six years to identify those most likely to have doped. The biathlon federation now uses the software to target its athletes for drug testing.

Could an athlete then be disciplined simply for performing too well?

“That would be unfair,” says Tucker. “The final verdict is only ever going to be reached by testing. It has to be.” In recent years, cycling authorities have successfully prosecuted athletes for having highly probability profiles, even when banned substances such as EPO could not be found. But performance is too far removed from taking a banned substance and influenced by too many outside factors to convict someone of doping, Tucker says. “When we look at this swimmer from America who breaks numerous world records, that’s not proof of anything. It asks a question or two.”

[1] Ooops, our editors conveniently “forget” to mention that the the same event at a major meet in July was actually in 2004.

[2] OK, our editors make up this reference and they don’t know anything about science.

EDITOR’S NOTES: this article mimics the Nature article we mentioned early. All credits go to the original author Ewen Callaway for inspiring us to create this one. Hope our readers find it entertaining.

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From Nature to mainstream newspaper

Nature, the most prestigious scientific journal, has published an online article about the performance of Chinese swimming athlete Ye Shiwen:

(If  the above link does not work, please Google “Why great Olympic feats raise suspicions”.)

It may seems sound and solid that, in the name of Nature, Ye Shiwen’s performance is highly questionable. It seems to confirm the suspicions raised by many others. NOT until we read the following comments that provide a more complete picture of what have happened after sorting out all the media fabrication:

However, the author has definitely achieved his goal – to reenforce doubt over Ye . After all, how many people are going to read through those comments? Majority of the readers will only read the article and naturally get the conclusion of the article. As we have repeatedly pointed out in the past, this has been an extremely successful strategy employed by our “free press” to deliver biased opinion to the public:


Congratulations to Nature for evolving from a prestigious scientific publisher to a main-stream newspaper today.

UPDATE 1: Nature has corrected the year (2011) of Ye Shiwen’s last record. So it now says that Ye improved her performance by 7 seconds (actually less than 6 seconds as some have pointed out) during a year, not the previously suggested a month.

UPDATE 2: Nature’s comment links above have disappeared. Fortunately we have made a copy and they are pasted below.

UPDATE 3: Nature has published full comment 47487 by Lai Jiang following the original article.

Full comment 47439:

Zhenxi Zhang said:

I just want to add this: Phelps improved 4+ seconds in his 200 fly between 14-15 years old. Ian Thorpe also had a similar performance improvement. Ye is now 16. She was 160 cm in height and now 170 cm. Human biology also play a role – she gets stronger and bigger naturally. Yes she can make up 5 seconds (NOT 7 seconds in the article) in a 400 IM that has more room for improvement, with good training she got in Australia.

In both the 400 IM and 200 IM finals, Ye were behind until freestyle. Well I guess there is “drug” that just enhances freestyle, but not the backstroke, breast, and fly. Does that make sense? Also, it is not professional to only mention that ‘her showing in the last 50 metres, which she swam faster than US swimmer Ryan Lochte did when he won gold in the men’s 400 IM’. The whole fact is that Ye is more than 23 second slower than Lochte in 400 IM. Plus, Freestyle isn’t Lochte’s best leg, but it is Shiwen’s best leg. Lochte had a huge lead on the field, and almost coasted to the finish. He wasn’t pressured by the field to go all out that last few meters.

And before we get into the fact there’s no way a woman should be able to come close to man’s time for a final leg of 50m. May I present the following: Kate Ziegler set a WR in the 1500m freestyle. In the last 50m of her race she had a split of 29.27, which is ONLY 0.17s slower than Lochte final 50m. This was after she swam for 1100m longer than Lochte!

I feel the author would probably not write such a piece if Ye is an American or British. Neither country is clean from athletes caught by doping (See Let’s try not to use double standards on the great performance from countries other than US and European countries.

Full comment 47487:

Lai Jiang said:

It is a shame to see Nature, which nearly all scientists, including myself, regard as the one of the most prestigious and influential physical science magazines to publish a thinly-veiled biased article like this. Granted, this is not a peer-reviewed scientific article and did not go through the scrutiny of picking referees. But to serve as a channel for the general populous to be in touch with and appreciate sciences, the authors and editors should at least present the readers with facts within proper context, which they failed to do blatantly.

First, to compare a player’s performance increase, the author used Ye’s 400m IM time and her performance at the World championship 2011, which are 4:28.43 and 4:35.15 respectively, and reached the conclusion that she has got an “anomalous” increase by ~7 sec (6.72 sec). In fact she’s previous personal best was 4:33.79 at Asian Games 20101. This leads to a 5.38 sec increase. In a sport event that 0.1 sec can be the difference between the gold and silver medal, I see no reason that 5.38 sec can be treated as 7 sec.

Second, as previously pointed out, Ye is only 16 years old and her body is still developing. Bettering oneself by 5 sec over two years may seem impossible for an adult swimmer, but certainly happens among youngsters. Ian Thorpe’s interview revealed that his 400m freestyle time increased 5 sec between the age of 15 and 162. For regular people including the author it may be hard to imagine what an elite swimmer can achieve as he or she matures, combined with scientific and persistent training. But jumping to a conclusion that it is “anomalous” based on “Oh that’s so tough I can not imagine it is real” is hardly sound.

Third, to compare Ryan Lochte’s last 50m to Ye’s is a textbook example of what we call to cherry pick your data. Yes, Lochte is slower than Ye in the last 50m, but (as pointed out by Zhenxi) Lochte has a huge lead in the first 300m so that he chose to not push himself too hard to conserve energy for latter events (whether this conforms to the Olympic spirit and the “use one’s best efforts to win a match” requirement that the BWF has recently invoked to disqualify four badminton pairs is another topic worth discussing, probably not in Nature, though). On the contrary, Ye is trailing behind after the first 300m and relies on freestyle, which she has an edge, to win the game. Failing to mention this strategic difference, as well as the fact that Lochte is 23.25 sec faster (4:05.18) over all than Ye creates the illusion that a woman swam faster than the best man in the same sport, which sounds impossible. Put aside the gender argument, I believe this is still a leading question that implies the reader that something fishy is going on.

Fourth, another example of cherry picking. In the same event there are four male swimmers that swam faster than both Lochter (29.10 sec)3 and Ye (28.93 sec)4: Hagino (28.52 sec), Phelps (28.44 sec), Horihata (27.87 sec) and Fraser-Holmes (28.35 sec). As it turns out if we are just talking about the last 50m in a 400m IM, Lochter would not have been the example to use if I were the author. What kind of scientific rigorousness that author is trying to demonstrate here? Is it logical that if Lochter is the champion, we should assume he leads in every split? That would be a terrible way to teach the public how science works.

Fifth, which is the one I oppose the most. The author quotes Tucks and implies that a drug test can not rule out the possibility of doping. Is this kind of agnosticism what Nature really wants to educate its readers? By that standard I estimate that at least half of the peer-reviewed scientific papers in Nature should be retracted. How can one convince the editors and reviewers that their proposed theory works for every possible case? One cannot. One chooses to apply the theory to typical examples and demonstrate that in (hopefully) all scenarios considered the theory works to a degree, and that should warrant a publication, until a counterexample is found. I could imagine that the author has a skeptical mind which is critical to scientific thinking, but that would be put into better use if he can write a real peer-reviewed paper that discusses the odds of Ye doping on a highly advanced non-detectable drug that the Chinese has come up within the last 4 years (they obviously did not have it in Beijing, otherwise why not to use it and woo the audience at home?), based on data and rational derivation. This paper, however, can be interpreted as saying that all athletes are doping, and the authorities are just not good enough to catch them. That may be true, logically, but definitely will not make the case if there is ever a hearing by FINA to determine if Ye has doped. To ask the question that if it is possible to false negative in a drug test looks like a rigged question to me. Of course it is, other than the drug that the test is not designed to detect, anyone who has taken Quantum 101 will tell you that everything is probabilistic in nature, and there is a probability for the drug in an athlete’s system to tunnel out right at the moment of the test. A slight change as it may be, should we disregard all test results because of it? Let’s be practical and reasonable. And accept WADA is competent at its job. Her urine sample is stored for 8 years following the contest for future testing as technology advances. Innocent until proven guilty, shouldn’t it be?

Sixth, and the last point I would like to make, is that the out-of-competition drug test is already in effect, which the author failed to mention. Per WADA president’s press release 5, drug testing for olympians began at least 6 months prior to the opening of the London Olympic. Furthermore there are 107 athletes who are banned from this Olympic for doping. That maybe the reason that “everyone will pass at the Olympic games. Hardly anyone fails in competition testing”? Because those who did dope are already sanctioned? The author is free to suggest that a player could have doped beforehand and fool the test at the game, but this possibility certainly is ruled out for Ye.

Over all, even though the author did not falsify any data, he did (intentionally or not) cherry pick data that is far too suggestive to be fair and unbiased, in my view. If you want to cover a story of a suspected doping from a scientific point of view, be impartial and provide all the facts for the reader to judge. You are entitled to your interpretation of the facts, and the expression thereof in your piece, explicitly or otherwise, but only showing evidences which favor your argument is hardly good science or journalism. Such an article in a journal like Nature is not an appropriate example of how scientific research or report should be done.


Full comment 47746:

Liming Wang said:

Philip Campbell, Ph.D. and Editor-in-Chief of Nature,

I am a neurobiologist in University of California, Berkeley, USA. I (as well as many of my colleagues) found an article that appeared in Nature yesterday, titled “Why great Olympic feats raise suspicions”, completely groundless and extremely disturbing.

In that article, Mr. Callaway questioned China’s 16-year-old swimmer Ye Shiwen, who won two gold medals in women’s 200-meter and 400-meter individual medley (400 IM) in London Olympics, and said her record-breaking performance ‘anomalous’. However, the evidence he used to support his reckless statement is simply groundless.

As many have pointed out in the major media, it is not uncommon for an elite and young swimmer to increase his/her performance in a relatively short time window. An Australian swimmer and Olympics gold medalist, Ian Thorpe, said that he improved his 400-meter performance by 5 seconds around the same age as Ye. UK’s Adrian Moorhouse, a Seoul Olympics gold medalist, also testified openly that he “improved four seconds” at the age of 17. He also called the suspicions around Ye’s performance ‘sour grape’.

The other point that Ewen Callaway used to support his accusation, that Ye swam faster than US swimmer Ryan Lochte in the last 50 meters when he won gold in the men’s 400 IM, is unfortunately also unprovoked. First of all, Ryan Lochte did not perform the best in the final 50 meters. He only ranked 5th in the last 50 meters, at 29’10, which was significantly slower than Japan’s Yuya Horihata (27’87) and three other swimmers competing in the same event. (Ye’s performance was 28’93). It could be that Lochte was away ahead of his competitors in the first three splits so he did not have to strike too hard in the final 50 meters, or that he had used up all his energy. So one cannot only look at the final 50 meters of Ye and Lochte and conclude that Ye swam faster than a men’s champion. In fact, Ye’s record-breaking performance in women’s 400 IM (4’28″43) was significantly slower than Lochte’s (4’5″8). Secondly, even if one only looks at the performance of the final 50 meters, women can certainly surpass men and Ye’s performance shouldn’t be accused as ‘anomalous’. For example, in last year’s World Championships in Shanghai, UK’s swimmer Rebecca Adlington won a gold medal in women’s 800-meter freestyle. In that event her performance in her final 50 meters (28’91) was faster than both Ye and Lochte in London.

It is worth pointing out that all the facts I listed above can be easily tracked in major media and from the Internet. With just a little effort Ewen Callaway could have avoided raising groundless and disturbing charges against China’s young athlete in a professional scientific journal.

Even worse, Ewen Callaway further argued that Ye’s clean drug test in Olympics ‘doesn’t rule out the possibility of doping’, implying that Ye might have doped ‘during training’ and escape the more rigorous tests during Olympics. Such a statement is disrespectful to Ye and all professional athletes. Following this logic, Mr. Callaway can easily accuse any athlete ‘doping’ without any evidence; and ironically, according to him, those being accused have no way to prove themselves innocent: even if they pass all rigorous drug test, they could still have doped at a different time, or even doped some unidentified drugs! I cannot help wondering if presumption of innocence (innocent until proven guilty) still has people’s belief nowadays, or it is considered outdated in Nature, or in UK?

Last but not least, although Mr. Callaway claimed that he was attempting to discuss science, instead of ‘racial and political undertones’. Readers can easily smell the hidden (yet clearly implied) racism and discrimination. Yes, we may all agree that better methodology for drug test (such as ‘biological passport’) is needed for the anti-doping effort. But why the stunning performance from this 16-year-old gifted swimmer can lead to such a proposal? Was Mr. Callaway suggesting that Ye was found drug-clean simply because the drug detection method was not advanced enough? At the end of the article, Mr. Callaway even quoted  “When we look at this young swimmer from China who breaks a world record, that’s not proof of anything. It asks a question or two”. So athletes from China, despite their talent and training, are supposed to perform bad and never break world records, otherwise they deserve to be questioned, suspected, and accused? Backed up by technological progress and better training/supporting systems, athletes worldwide are maximizing their potentials. World records are being refreshed every year. USA’s Michael Phelps just won a record 19th medals in Olympics and he has broken numerous swimming world records. Shall we also “ask a question or two” about his ‘anomalous’ performance?

Nature is considered one of the most prestigious scientific journals in the world; many scientists, including myself, chose Nature to publish their best work (I myself have co-authored three papers published in Nature and Nature sister journals). However, Mr. Callaway’s article, which is not only misleading, but also full of racial and political bias, has tainted Nature’s reputation in the scientific community, and among the general audience. Unless Nature takes further actions (e.g. publicly retract this article and apologize to Ye and all athletes), I hereby decide not to send my work to Nature any more-and believe me I will not be the last one to protest.

Liming Wang, PhD
Bowes Research Fellow
Department of Molecular and Cell Biology
University of California, Berkeley
CA 94720 USA


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Olympics, again!

Time flies so fast! It almost looks like yesterday when we were discussing Beijing Olympics. 🙂

Again, our “free press” have held back nothing in the effort to bash Chinese athletes’ stunning performance in London Olympics. For example, this CNN report tries to link Ye Shiwen’s golden medals with doping:

Upon reading this, I cannot help rolling on the floor laughing. You must be kidding me, “free press”! Let’s take a look at the following list of doping scandals:

Oooops! The list shows that US is the unquestionable leader of doping scandals in sports – 119 cases in total. This is hardly surprising. We all know that US, proudly, has the most advanced drug R&D technology around the world. The second place, Germany, has 35 cases. On the contrary, China only has 7 cases. It almost sounds like, you Chinese have achieved something that we the free world cannot achieve without doping, thus you must be doping/cheating. Well, we the free world seem to forget only one thing: WORK HARDER!!!

This kind of game is not unique. For example, US, as the largest weapon export nation around the world, often accuses China for exporting a tiny fraction of weapons compared to itself.

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Difference on reporting “fake” performance

Remember one New York Times’ report titled “In Grand Olympic Show, Some Sleight of Voice”? It covers a story that “Chinese organizers superimposed the voice of a sweeter-singing little girl on that of a 9-year-old performer featured at the opening ceremony of last summer’s Olympic Games.” The full report is here:

Now there is another New York Time’s report titled “The Frigid Fingers Were Live, but the Music Wasn’t”, covering the “pretty close” to “lip-synching” music performance at the Inauguration. The full report is here:

I must admit, it is always entertaining to read reports on similar topics. You get the idea of how media are treating stories differently.

BTW, while searching for the New York Time report on Beijing Olympics, I come across this interesting article “How the New York Times (should have) covered the Olympics”. It is a good example of writing practice for any one who wants to be a journalist, depending on which side she/he is sitting.

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Welcome to Beijing

Well, something to cheer up. This is the song released for 100 day countdown to Beijing Olympics, sung by 100 Chinese singers/entertainers. Though the MV is busy giving every participant a front shot, it also contains rich elements of Chinese traditional culture, such as calligraphy, architecture, costume, custom, food, entertainment, art etc., many of which are just subtle indications or a quick 1-second glance. Those who are interested in Chinese traditional culture can try to make a list of them, or even write something about them in the feedback:-)

Below is the translated lyrics of the song, courtesy of hermitcarp from youtube.

Title: Beijing welcomes you

Bring in a fresh day with brand new start
Changes abound but love is constant
Aroma of friendship we offer with tea

The doors to my house are always open
My arms stretched out awaiting you
With an embrace we will better understand each other
You will fall in love with this place.
It matters not you are from near or afar
Be our guest and make yourself home
We have a rendez-vous. We welcome you!

The evergreens in my garden broom legend after legend
Seeds planted on traditional soil
Let your memories grow.
The strangers and the well-acquainted, drop your guard
Whether this is your first visit or one of many,
We will have so much to share.

Beijing welcomes you!
Expand your horizons
Bedazzled by the energies of athletic feat
Beijing welcomes you!
Let us breathe together under the sunny sky
And shatter old records on this yellow earth

The doors to my house are always open
As my heart and mind
The ancient years now bloom in youthful smiles
Ready for this day.
Between the vast heaven and earth we are all friends,
Please do not be shy
Come meet our poetry, our art, and our genuine hearts.

Beijing welcomes you!
Its music will move you!
Cheer us on journeys to transcend ourselves
Beijing welcomes you!
With a dream anyone could be a giant
With courage we will find miracles!


Filed under Beijing, China, culture, Fun, Olympics, Video