On the Beijing Beat: Arron's Olympic flame no match for Trumpton's finest

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The Independent Online

One of the more endearing sights as one travels about the bubble that is the 2008 Olympics is that of strategically placed fire engines with their dutiful operatives standing at attention beside them like figures from Trumpton.

Good news! The Trumpton firemen finally got a chance to leave their podiums yesterday when French sprinter Christine Arron had a bit of a misunderstanding with the Chinese instructions on her cooker in the athletes' village. Arron left for an hour having left some food on what she believed to be a low heat. Unfortunately for her – but happily for the Firemen-In-Waiting – the setting was actually the highest it could be and when she returned she discovered several tenders in attendance putting out the flames. All the firemen are back on their boxes now, but at least they had something to think about other than the amused glances of heartless passers-by.

Weightlifters lost in space

Given that they have been labouring all week within the confines of the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics Gymnasium, it is perhaps not surprising that some weightlifters are sounding a bit spaced out.

Asked to comment on missing a medal by one place in the women's 69kg category, Colombia's Leidy Solis responded enigmatically: "I have many feelings." And Turkey's Taner Sagir's failure to lift any of his snatch attempts in the Men's 77kg category was due, he said, to the fact that he had "lost the bar" behind him and injured his arm. How very careless.

The day before, Britain's sole weightlifter, Michaela Breeze, had praised the Chinese crowd for helping her through a competition in which she was suffering extreme back pain. As the Briton staggered away from her final successful effort with all the mobility of Mrs Overall in Acorn Antiques, the crowd, who had witnessed her tribulations on the big screen showing all the backstage drama, rose in acclamation.

But for Albania's Erkand Qerimaj, one of Sagir's opponents in the men's 77kg category, such gestures of support were unwelcome. Explaining why he failed in his last attempt at clean and jerk, he said: "I started and everyone began clapping. I tried not to listen to anything but it distracted me."

Standards have taken a dive

The Ministry for Public Security has let it be known that a total of 9,065 Chinese parents have so far chosen to name their child after Guo Jingjing, the 2004 diving champion who successfully defended the Olympic 3m synchro title with her partner on the first day of the Games.

The scenic athlete, who has twice been threatened with ejection from the team for "overt commercial activities" and was recently pictured by paparazzi having dinner with a well-known Hong Kong playboy, described one of her opponents, Blythe Hartley, as "the fat Canadian". Let's hope all the newly-minted Jingjings don't take after her in the matter of manners.

Mike Rowbottom

Word on the street

Surname: Kong.

Given Name: Deming.

Age: 17.

Birthplace: Dongbei Province; studying in Beijing.

Occupation: Gaozhong or high school student (equivalent to English A-Levels)

How much attention have you been paying to the Games?

Loads, of course! This is a "country thing", a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. That's why I decided to study in Beijing, so I could be here for the Games.

Do you have any tickets?

No. I thought it would be best to leave it until the last minute. That was the wrong idea! My family have come to visit from Dongbei and even though we don't have tickets we have come to the stadiums today just for a laugh.

Apart from China, are there any other teams or sportsmen that you feel strongly about, and why?

My dad follows the NBA, so an interest in basketball rubbed off. It was a shame we lost to America. We didn't do too badly, I guess we need to train more. If it wasn't for Yao Ming, who knows where we'd be?!

What are the best and worst things about the Olympics in Beijing?

The chance to give foreigners a good impression. Before, China was just a country of peasants. It's good to show the world how we have developed.

But prices of everyday things have gone up.

What do you think about the money spent on the Games?

It's all necessary, of course. Just think of all the people that have come to visit Beijing. When I came here last year there were only three subway lines, now there are seven – how's that for progress?

Jeremy Webb

Alternative guide

"Be careful of your neck Phelps", warns a 'netizen' under the alias Peasant 007, "another five medals is quite a load!"

With over 250m users, China has the world's largest online population and each day the "Beijing Times" prints the best bits from the forums.

In yesterday's edition a surfer jokes that "China needs to produce something like this. Ideally it would be twins – one a master on the track, the other a swimmer – between them they'd get 16 medals".

In the real world, tonight White Rabbit plays host to one of Beijing's premier gay and lesbian nights, "Queeressence".

According to the organisers, China's hottest techno/ house DJ Mickey Zhang and DJ Nutrasweet will "deliver the very best aural pleasure and satisfy your darkest dance floor desires".

The existence of a thriving gay scene here may come as a surprise to some considering that homosexuality wasn't taken off the list of "hooligan acts" until 1997. Only in 2001 was it no longer classified as a mental disorder.

Jeremy Webb

Today at the Games

07.10 Rowing The final round of semi-finals features three more British crews trying to win places in this weekend's finals. Seven British boats are already through and three more attempt to join them today: the lightweight women's double sculls (semi-final at 08.30), the lightweight men's double sculls (08.50) and the lightweight men's four (09.20)

12.03 Swimming Rebecca Adlington, already a gold medal winner in the 400m freestyle, joins Cassie Patten in the 800m freestyle heats

12.15 Badminton Gail Emms and Nathan Robertson, having disposed of the No 2 seeds in the previous round, face Lee Yongdae and Lee Hyojung in the quarter-finals of the mixed doubles

13.45 Boxing Light welterweight Bradley Saunders, who knocked out Samuel Kotey Neequaye, of Ghana, in the first round, takes on France's Alexis Vastine.

What you may have missed overnight...

03.07 Swimming Women's 100m freestyle semi-final featuring Britain's Francesca Halsall, who won her heat

03.18 Swimming Men's 200m backstroke semi-final, with Britain's Gregor Tait seeking a second Olympic final in this discipline

04.07 Swimming Men's 200m individual medley semis, with Britain's James Goddard and Liam Tancock taking on Michael Phelps and others

06.00 Sailing Britain's Ben Ainslie and the Yngling crew defending their leads

06.45 Boxing British welterweight Billy Joe Saunders met Carlos Banteaux Suarez for a place in the quarter-finals

Coming up later today...

07.30 Boxing British light heavyweight Tony Jeffries takes on Colombia's Eleider Alvarez

11.30 Swimming Men's 50m freestyle heats, including the British veteran, Mark Foster

12.15 Equestrian Team and individual dressage

13.19 Swimming Women's 200m backstroke heats featuring Britain's Elizabeth Simmonds and Gemma Spofforth

14.00 Hockey Britain's women take on New Zealand

If you want to stay up late tonight...

02.00 Athletics The track and field programme gets under way with Kelly Sotherton and Julie Hollman in action in the opening event of the heptathlon, the 100m hurdles.

02.45: Athletics Usain Bolt, Asafa Powell and Tyson Gay get to their marks in the men's 100m heats. Simeon Williamson, Tyrone Edgar and Craig Pickering will be the Brits on the blocks

03.45 Swimming Men's 200m individual medley final, in which Michael Phelps will be seeking gold No 6 of these Games

Weather watch

A hot and humid day with rain likely. Temperatures will reach 31C.