On the Beijing Beat: Small step or great leap forward? Vote now...

Is China on the path to democracy? We think so, and it seems that the Communist Party might just be taking the opportunity of the Games to send that message out, albeit with some subtlety, to the international community and locals alike.

Exhibit A is an intriguing feature in the mouthpiece publication, The China Daily, about, errm, reality shows on Chinese TV. It talks about the recent smash hit The Disciple, which was a kind of The Apprentice except involving Jackie Chan instead of Alan Sugar and kung fu instead of business. It also mentions Super Girls (a Chinese Pop Idol), and its spin-offs My Hero and Super Boys. It explains of Super Girls: "Viewers can vote by text messages for their favourite and their votes help to decide the contestants' fate, which is a totally new concept on Chinese TV." And then there's the revelatory sentence: "The voting segment is now widely believed to be one of the key factors in the show's popularity."

The great leap forward to an election is only a matter of time, we reckon. Although the piece also says: "In Chinese talent shows, friendship among the contestants is highlighted and praised, while competitiveness is frowned upon." And: "Chinese reality shows are less dramatic and fierce, more harmonious and morality oriented, compared to their counterparts on Western TV. No Jerry Springer here!"

It's written in the stars, perhaps

All manner of studies have been done to try to ascertain what makes a good Olympian, and one analyst receiving attention here is a British statistician, Kenneth Mitchell, who details "the Pisces Effect" (fish-starred people win 30 per cent more medals in aquatic events) and various other phenomena on his site, olympicstarsign.com. The diary prefers to examine things in reverse, asking what the types of medal that a nation wins says about its people. A sizeable majority of China's medals have come in events either involving grace (seven diving golds, nine gymnastics) or force (eight weightlifting, five shooting). The British win medals sitting down (seven cycling golds, four sailing, two rowing), while Russia is simultaneously athletic (five golds) and aggressive (six in wrestling). Germany is the only nation with at least one bronze, one silver and one gold in men's events, women's events and mixed/open events, and they are across a broader range of sports than most nations. What it all means, we know not. Answers on the back of chopstick, please.

A snapshot of Chinese security

Security is generally tight here, but sporadic, while priorities in this field are odd. Hence the diarist was able on Wednesday evening to get within about 20 feet of the running track, and might easily have joined the men's 5,000 metres but for the inability to run that fast. Yet get out a camera without the right badge round your neck, and, hey presto, two people jumping up and down saying: "No photo, no photo."

A Thorpe's dozen

Says Ian Thorpe of über-fishman Michael Phelps: "Because of the way he performed [here], he could potentially win 12 [golds in London]. But like when I made the comment about whether he'd win eight here [Thorpe said no], it depends very much on him." Thanks for that, Ian.

Nick Harris

Word on the street

Surname: Zhang.

Given name: Yaya.

Age: 23.

Occupation: Olympic volunteer in Beijing.

Why have you chosen to be an Olympic volunteer? Do you enjoy it? I have always wanted to be a volunteer, looking after old people or something. Sometimes it's boring, but when you manage to help it feels great.

What is the worst thing about the Olympics in Beijing? The TV! Chinese media coverage is way too over the top. The news is dominated by the Olympics; at least half is the Olympics. Chinese news is bad enough anyway, too much empty talk.

Have you seen any strange foreigners? When I was watching the opening ceremony on the big screen at the Workers' Stadium there were a load of people, Madagascan I think, shouting about their country. Chinese people got angry... maybe not angry, but they started to compete by chanting "Go China!" That group of Chinese must have thought, "This is our Olympics". Chinese people can be sensitive like that.

Have you been following Britain's progress during the Games?

I was surprised to see that you were third in the table.

Why is that? Maybe it's something to do with the fact that the Olympics are coming to London. I'm not really sure what Britain is best at. I saw the kindergarten bikes – BMXs I mean.

What is your reaction to claims that the Olympics have been overpoliticised by China? The Western media thinks too much. Olympics are an advert for China, one that we have invested a lot in. If that is what you call "politicised", then fine. Every country would do this.

Jeremy Webb

Alternative guide

For those Chinese not familiar with the sounds of the Roman alphabet, names of people and places used in English are spelt out using the Chinese characters that best represent how the syllables of that word sound.

Chinese announcers at Olympic events have used the following renditions of some of our gold medallists: Ben An-si-li – the sailor Ben Ainslie; Ke-li-si Huo-yi – cyclist Chris Hoy; and Li-bei-ka A-de-lin-dun – swimmer Rebecca Adlington. Can you work out which surnames the following refer to? Fei-er-pu-si, Na-er-de, Bo-er-te*.

Meanwhile, one of only eight plays permitted during the Cultural Revolution, Red Detachment of Women, will be familiar to anyone who lived through modern China's most turbulent period. First performed in 1964, it depicts a peasant girl's rise through party ranks and was noted for its fusion of Western ballet with Chinese folk dancing.

Tonight at Beijing's National Centre for Performing Arts visitors will havea chance to see this brilliantly preserved relic of Communist China's past.

* Phelps, Nadal, Bolt

Jeremy Webb

Today at the Games

The main event

15.10 Athletics The final of the men's 4x100m relay and a chance for Jamaica's Usain Bolt to win his third gold medal of the Games after his victories in the 100m and 200m. With no US or GB team in the final, can anyone else get enough of a lead to stop the lightning Bolt on the last leg? Probably not.

Brit watch

08.30 Canoeing Tim Brabants, who was fastest in qualifying, races for gold in the first of his two finals, the 1,000m kayak single (K1).

12.20 Athletics Britain's Jade Johnson competes in the women's long jump final against Carolina Kluft, the former queen of the heptathlon.

14.46 Boxing Italy's Roberto Cammarelle stands in the way of David Price's attempt to reach the super-heavyweight final.

Best of the rest

What you may have missed overnight...

01.30 Modern pentathlon Britain's Katy Livingston and Heather Fell started the day as medal contenders in the women's event.

02.00 Cycling Britain's Shanaze Reade was racing in her BMX semi-final, postponed from today.

04.00 Hockey Britain's women faced Australia in a match to decide fifth and sixth place.

04.15 Tae kwon do Britain's Aaron Cook began his medal quest in the men's under-80kg category.

Coming up later today...

08.01 Boxing Britain's James Degale and Ireland's Darren Sutherland fight for a place in the middleweight final.

12.00 Football Belgium meet Brazil in the men's bronze medal match.

12.00 Diving Britain's Peter Waterfield and the 14-year-old Tom Daley compete in the preliminary round of the men's 10m platform event.

12.40 Athletics Christine Ohuruogu will be back on the track in the heats of the women's 4x400m relay.

13.10 Athletics Martyn Rooney leads the British quartet in the heats of the men's 4x400m relay.

14.01 Boxing Britain's Tony Jeffries fights Ireland's Kenny Egan for a place in the light-heavyweight final.

If you want to stay up late tonight...

03.00 Diving The men's 10m platform semi-final is at 13.00.

03.45 Tae kwon do Britain's Sarah Stevenson meets Jordan's Nadin Dawani in the women's over-67kg category.

04.00 Hockey Britain face South Korea in a match to decide fifth and sixth place in the men's event.

05.00 Football Argentina defend their men's title in the final against Nigeria.

Weather watch

A much brighter and drier day with sun likely. Temperatures will reach 30C.

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