Olympics a big hit outside Beijing too

Aug. 12, 2008, 2:10 a.m. (ET)

SHENYANG, China (AP) The Beijing Games is not only about Beijing.

The Olympics are thriving outside the Chinese capital too, and fans and athletes say they are having just as much fun despite being miles (kilometers) away from the heart of the games.

They don't have the pleasure of walking around with the Bird's Nest or the Water Cube in the background, but they are still enjoying the Olympic experience.

The equestrian, sailing, rowing and football competitions carried the Olympic spirit to seven other locations - Hong Kong, Qingdao, Beixiaoying Town, Shenyang, Tianjin, Shanghai and Qinhuangdao.

The equestrian events were moved to Hong Kong because of quarantine restrictions on mainland China, the football matches were scattered across the nation to accommodate the tournament's schedule and stadium demands, and the sailing and rowing events also needed specific facilities.

"The Olympic spirit is the same here," Brazil coach Dunga said in Shenyang, one of the four football venues. "Even though we are not in Beijing, we see that everybody here is really into the games. There were more than 90,000 fans watching football in just two days, I think that shows how much interest there is."

Football alone drew nearly 500,000 fans in the first four days of competition, when 28 matches were played in the four venues.

In Qinhuangdao, some 190 miles (300 kilometers) northeast of the capital, members of the U.S. women's football team didn't have any complaints either.

"I think that it is an amazing atmosphere, and I think that the people have been great and the support at the stadium has been great," defender Heather Mitts said.

Athletes felt the same way in the rowing venue in Beixiaoying Town, about 20 miles (30 kilometers) from Beijing.

"When I came over the top of the conveyer belt and saw that many people around the stands, it didn't feel like any less of an Olympics," said 19-year-old American canoer Benn Fraker, who spent the first two weeks of training living in the Olympic village before moving to a hotel near the venue.

To try to keep some of the athletes from feeling like outsiders, some of the venues even organized local opening ceremonies for those who couldn't make it to Beijing for the big opener on Friday.

The ceremony in the coastal city of Qingdao, the sailing venue 300 miles (480 kilometers) southeast of the capital, drew thousands of spectators, including representatives of each of the 62 nations competing there.

In Hong Kong, 1,200 miles (1,900 kilometers) south of Beijing, the festivities included a parade of nations and even a torch-lighting ceremony timed to the one in Beijing.

Most of the athletes outside the capital chose not to attend the main ceremony to avoid losing training time at their venues. The U.S. men's football squad ended making the short 70-mile (110-kilometer) trip from Tianjin, but the women's squad didn't have the same chance.

Mitts was one of the players who regretted missing the festivities in Beijing.

"We were watching it on TV like all the fans back home," she said. "It's unfortunate, but it is what it is."

It was the second time the defender was forced to skip the event. She also missed it at the 2004 Athens Games.

In Shenyang, the Olympic atmosphere is so much like in Beijing that even pollution is here. The industrial city 500 miles (800 kilometers) to the north has a similar smog to the one that has attracted the world's attention in the capital.

There were protests away from Beijing too. In Hong Kong, activists displayed the Tibetan flag and chanted pro-democracy slogans at the equestrian event.

No matter what, fans are thrilled to have the Olympics come to them.

"You know, transportation is not simple here in China," said 59-year-old Sixto Bareiro, a Brazilian who lives in a city an hour's flight from Shenyang. "It's not everybody who has the time or the money to go to Beijing. If they didn't bring some of these competitions to near us, there was no way we could have watched the games. I'm just glad they did. Now we can say we were part in the Beijing Olympics too."

Even away from Beijing.


Associated Press Writers Margaret Freeman in Hong Kong, Ryan Lucas in Qinhuangdao, Doug Mellgren in Qingdao, and AP Sports Writers Dan Gelston in Beixiaoying Town and Brian Trusdell in Tianjin contributed to this report.