Olympics: Cycling fans struggle against Great Wall

Repels invaders, spectators

Women's time trial winner Kristin Armstrong passes the Great Wall

While riders marvelled at the backdrop of the Great Wall for Olympic cycling events here, spectators said the structure built to keep out invaders also prevented them from watching races.


Road races on the weekend and Wednesday’s time trials were advertised as “free non-ticketed events” but fans found it nearly impossible to get to the Juyongguan section of the Great Wall and enter the main viewing area.

For the road cyclists, the course alongside China’s top tourist attraction lived up to its billing as one of the most spectacular sites for the Beijing Games, and was even a source of inspiration.

“Maybe this wall has given me the power and the strength,” said Switzerland’s Fabian Cancellara, who won gold in the men’s time trial and bronze in the road race.

“After you see… and all the hard work they had to do to make this, (I thought) maybe this was the way for me and a sign that I had to do the same. And I did the same.”

For American Christine Thorburn, who finished fifth in the women’s time trial, racing near the wall was “fantastic”.

“When you come from the west, you can’t think of anything more glamorous than the Great Wall. I thought it was very symbolic when we crossed over it,” she said.

The Julongyuan and Badaling portions of the wall where the races were held served to protect Beijing for centuries, and were most effective in repelling northern invaders during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties.

Subsequently the Great Wall had come to symbolise China’s closed-door mentality which the nation has fought to free itself from since embarking on the economically vibrant “opening and reform” policy 30 years ago.

But according to foreign fans here, that mentality appeared to be still lingering at the cycling races, as were some of the mysterious ways of China.

All the roads to the wall were closed off for security reasons.

“We couldn’t get a taxi, and the buses said they were not going to Badaling, so in the end we decided to take a train,” Stuart Lee, a cycling fan from the United States, told AFP.

However the main train stop near the site, about 70 kilometres (45 miles) from Beijing, was also closed for security.

“We were devastated when we were forced off the train in Changping (20 kilometers from Juyongguan) in the middle of nowhere.”

Lee and his group eventually made it to the event by hitching a ride on a media bus, but security guards refused to allow them on to the main viewing area near the finish line so they were forced to watch from outside with dozens of other Western fans.

“We couldn’t believe it, the Olympic spectator’s guide clearly said no tickets were needed,” Lee said.

The lack of spectators on the course — a combination of the areas been closed for security and a general lack of Chinese fans that has been a feature at other Olympic venues — also made the races less interesting for the riders.

“It is beautiful, definitely a great setting for the race,” said Levi Leipheimer, men’s time trial bronze medalist from the United States. “But I would have liked to see more people on the course.”

On Sunday’s road race, seven members of the family of Australian rider Oenone Woods were kept out by overzealous security guards and volunteers, an Aussie team official told AFP.

Only after vigorous table pounding with officials were all allowed to be present for Wednesday’s time trial.

The wife of Cadel Evans, who finished second in this year’s Tour de France, had even greater problems.

“Cadel Evan’s wife eventually had to walk around to the back and climb a three-metre wall to watch,” said the Australian official, who asked to be quoted on condition of anonymity.


© BikeRadar & AFP 2008