Bird's Nest and Water Cube: Beijing venues were stars, too

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AP2009

File-Visitors walk past the National Aquatics Center, known as the Water Cube, on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the opening of the Olympic Games, in Beijing Friday, Aug. 7, 2009. The Olympics are remembered for the stars. That was true in Beijing in 2008, and the stars were Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt. But Beijing is also storied for its signature venues like the Bird's Nest stadium, and the Water Cube swimming venue. No Olympics before or since have impacted a city the way the Olympics did Beijing. (AP Photo/Greg Baker, File)

EDITORS — With the Tokyo Olympics postponed for a year because of the coronavirus pandemic, The Associated Press is looking back at the history of Summer Games. Here are some of the highlights of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

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The Olympics are remembered for the stars. That was true in Beijing in 2008, when the stars were Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt.

But Beijing is also storied for its signature venues like the the 91,000-seat “Bird's Nest” stadium, and the nearby swimming venue called the “Water Cube.”

No games before — or since — have impacted a city the way the Olympics did Beijing. The 1992 Barcelona Olympics offered only a minor makeover compared with Beijing, where the Olympics were used to mark China's rise on the world stage. The closest comparison was Tokyo's 1964 Olympics.

China spent a reported $44 billion to prepare the city for the Olympics, and it might have spent even more than that. It built subway lines and venues, added a sprawling airport, constructed highways ringing the city and knocked down large portions of the old hutongs — the maze of narrow alleyways that used to define the Chinese capital — to make way for the new.

Hundreds of building cranes filled the sky as Beijing prepared, a jagged skyline often so polluted that visibility was limited to a few hundred meters — even on good days. As building intensified and the pollution thickened, the joke became that Beijing had pollution “you could sink your teeth into.”

Phelps and Bolt dominated, and IOC President Jacques Rogge called them “the two icons of the games.”