On the Beijing Beat: China's curtain-raiser in line to break the billion barrier

Sports' governing bodies always claim ridiculously high TV ratings. Under scrutiny, they are laughable. As
The Independent revealed instead of billions watching football's last World Cup final, the true number was 260 million, and instead of the billion as claimed for Man Utd v Arsenal not so long ago, the real global figure was eight million.

Yet astonishingly the opening ceremony of Olympic Games will, almost certainly, soon be confirmed the first bona fide one billion viewer event in history – and not just in sport.

"For the first time, a major world event has happened in China, attracting a massive audience there, around 840 million people for the ceremony," says Kevin Alavy of Initiative Sports Futures, independent analysts who collate the data. "Never before have so many people watched anything together in such numbers. A billion-plus is remarkable."

The IOC expects the total figure to be 1.2bn. In China, 102 million people have watched at least part of the Games live online. In America, 40 million people watched live on TV on Saturday night (US time) as Michael Phelps won his eighth gold. It was NBC's biggest Saturday night audience for 18 years. TV figures in India, with a first-ever gold medallist this Games, and the UK, with a deluge of gold, are expected to be much better than anticipated pre-Games.

Keeping abreast of the times

Could the world of women's table tennis be about to embrace the bikini as the garb of choice? We can but hope.

The sport is desperate to attract more viewers and the vice-president of the International Table Tennis Federation, Claude Bergeret, said: "We are trying to push the players to use skirts and also nicer shirts, not shirts that are made for men, but ones with more curves."

In foreseeing bikinis, this diary has merely taken Bergeret's statement to its logical conclusion.

A Japanse player, Naomi Yotsumoto, is already on a one-woman crusade to liven up attire. At the Japanese national championships last year she played in knee-length socks, a pleated mini-skirt and a shirt that left one shoulder bare.

Nuts and bolts of the PR business

The diary gets asked to meet all manner of people at PR stunts: last week it was Cindy Crawford, yesterday Michael Phelps. Apologies to both but there's so much else on.

If we were in the UK at 10am tomorrow we'd consider the following invite: "Fresh from success at the Beijing Games, where he finished joint 12th in the qualification round in the Double Trap Shooting, Team B&Q's Steve Scott (Battle, East Sussex) will be popping into B&Q Bexhill, where he has worked for two years to share his Olympic experiences with his colleagues. It is a chance to talk to one of the first Team GB athletes to return home and find out his experiences, thoughts and future plans."

Shame we can't be there.

Nick Harris

Word on the street

Surnames: Roberts, Sutton

Given Names: Terry, Nicky

Age: 46, 36

From: Cambridge, UK

Occupation: Social worker, management consultant

Which events have you attended? Terry: We saw the medals Britain won in the rowing on Sunday. We were also there to see [Roger] Federer win the tennis doubles last week.

How do you feel about Britain's success so far in the Games? Nicky: It's fantastic. It feels good to be wearing these [Union Jack flags]. The Chinese seem to know about it too, many have approached us and said "Hey, aren't you third in the medal tally?"

Will London be able to host a Games as well as Beijing? N: London might struggle to make it run this smoothly. Public transport will be the main problem. T: I doubt they will upgrade the public transport system, I just can't see London bringing in brand new sparkling rolling stock like Beijing has. There were something like 400 buses out to the rowing park on Sunday. At the end when everyone exited the venue together wave after wave of buses came. N: We have been impressed with the volunteers, if they don't know the answer they will go out of their way to help you find someone who does.

Can you think of a bad thing about the Olympic Games here in Beijing? T: There are so many security checks. They're tedious but reassuring.

N: The food in the venues is not much good. They have tried to appeal to what they think westerners like, but they haven't quite hit the mark.

How do you feel about the political aspect of the Games, should China be hosting the Olympics? N: You need to judge a nation by its people rather than its government. If our perception of China was too bad we wouldn't have come.

Jeremy Webb

Alternative guide

Following the sombre coverage of the Games exit of Chinese hurdler Liu Xiang, papers here once again carried jubilant headlines. "China takes 9 of the 14 Olympic Gymnastics gold medals" reads the front page of Beijing News, while Life News ran with: "43:26 It's already decided", a reference to China's predicted victory over America in the medals table.

Meanwhile, those disappointed not to see wu shu, the Chinese martial art often referred to by Westerners as kung fu, included in the Games have a chance to see some of the top practitioners at today's Beijing 2008 Wu Shu Tournament.

The IOC refused to add wu shu to the list of Olympic events, but considering that the Japanese and South Koreans succeeded in having their own martial arts, judo and tae kwon do, included, the decision frustrated many.

Today's tournament at the Olympic Sports Gymnasium may be some consolation, especially as the IOC usually rules that non-Olympic sports should not be held in Olympic cities during the Games.

Jeremy Webb

Today at the Games

The main event

13.20 Athletics Phillips Idowu's date with destiny in the triple jump. The 29-year-old Londoner looked confident enough in qualifying, recording the best jump of the competition at his very first attempt. Larry Achike, another Briton, is also in the final, but Portugal's Nelson Evora looks the biggest threat to both of them

Brit watch

08.30 Canoeing Tim Brabants, the world and European champion at 1000 metres, races in the semi-finals of the men's single kayak (K1), having finished first in his heat.

12.15 Equestrianism Ben Maher, who is the best placed of the Britons in sixth, Tim Stockdale and Nick Skelton compete in the showjumping individual final round.

14.20 Athletics Martyn Rooney is on the brink of a breakthrough, but the Croydon Harrier might have to break the British record to get on the podium in the 400m final.

Best of the rest

What you may have missed overnight...

01.30 Modern pentathlon Start of men's event

02.00 Cycling Britain's Shanaze Reade in BMX semi-final. The final is at 03.30

02.00: Athletics Brit Jo Jackson in women's 20km walk

02.00 Swimming Britain's David Davies, medal hope in men's open water

02.20: Athletics Start of decathlon with 100m

02.50: Athletics Women's high jump qualifying

04.00 Beach volleyball China v US in women's gold medal match

06.00 Sailing Star and Tornado class medal races

Later today...

09.20 Canoeing Britain's Lucy Wainwright in semi-final of women's single kayak

11.00 Rhythmic gymnastics First two rotations of the individual all-round qualification, followed by the group rotation

11.20 Water polo US v Netherlands in women's final

12.00 Athletics Women's 1500m semi-finals. Brit Lisa Dobriske is a medal contender

12.20 Athletics Britain's Goldie Sayers has a chance in women's javelin final

12.30 Athletics Women's 200m final

13.00 Diving Women's 10m platform final

13.00 Basketball Russia v US in women's semi-final; Australia v China at 15.15

13.00 Volleyball Women's semi-final, Brazil v China. Cuba played US at 05.30

14.00 Football Brazil face US in women's final

14.40 Athletics Men's110m hurdles

If you want to stay up late...

01.30 Modern pentathlon Starts with shooting

02.00. Athletics Decathlon's 110m hurdles

04.00 Hockey Britain's women take on Australia for fifth and sixth place

04.15 Tae kwon do Britain's Aaron Cook in under-80kg category. Medal bouts at 12.30

Weather watch

Warm, but cooler than recently, with some heavy showers. Max temp: 23C.

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