2008 - Beijing

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Beijing 2008 announced itself to the world with a staggering $100 million opening
ceremony at the iconic "Bird's Nest" stadium, watched by an estimated one billion people worldwide, and it certainly wasn't the only unprecedented spectacle on display during these spectacular Games.

Superstars were born, 43 World records were smashed and 132 Olympic records were set as Beijing put on a spectacle which is sure to be remembered as one of the greatest events in sporting history.

The pre-launch activities however, were somewhat troublesome for the host nation, with talk of boycotts and mass protests due to the China's human rights record threatening to mar the Games.

The build-up was steeped in controversy as protestors to the situation in Tibet and the country's reported contribution to the war in Darfur made their voices heard.

Stadium architect Ai Weiwei refused to attend the opening ceremony of the Games, claiming the event was "laden with propaganda" and Hollywood director Steven Spielberg resigned from his role as "Artistic Consultant", stating that he could not choreograph an event for a country that had done "so little to halt the war in Sudan".

Western media suggested that attendances for the Games may suffer from the riots and demonstrations which took place in Tibet in March 2008, which led to protestors attempting to hijack the lighting of the Olympic torch at Olympia in the same month.

beijing protestThe Olympic torch relay was marred by pro-Tibet protests in London in April 2008

Pro-Tibet demonstrators also disrupted the Olympic torch relay in London in April, booing torch bearers and making attempts to liberate the torch and extinguish the flame whilst chanting "Free Tibet".

There were similar protests in Paris and San Francisco, which forced the International Olympics Committee (IOC) to reroute the torch parade and ultimately scrap international torch relays as of 2009.

The Games remained largely unaffected by these protests, and the events and facilities provided by the hosts and the incredible achievements from the athletes went a long way in atoning for the disastrous build-up.

Beijing 2008 provided China with a huge opportunity to showcase to the world the future-thinking approach of the country, and they spared no expense in attempting to do so.

Beijing OpeningBeijing's sensational opening ceremony is believed to have cost over $100 million (

These games saw technology utilised in a way that the Olympics had never seen before, as China racked up an eye-watering bill reportedly around the $43 billion-mark- well over four times the cost of the 2004 Games in Athens.

For instance, Beijing 2008 was the first Olympic Games to provide a Wi-Fi connection to journalists so that reports could be sent directly from the stands, as well as being the first game to be shown on television entirely in high-definition and the first Games available to be streamed via the internet and mobile devices.

The Games themselves proved to be slick, professional and generally faultless in terms of organisation.

The venues were quite simply stunning;  from the majestic mayhem of the "Bird's Nest" stadium to the utterly absurd "Water Cube" aquatics centre that stands alongside it, China certainly raised the bar in terms of innovation in the design of Olympics venues- and the athletes responded in similar fashion.

Beijing USED venues 090113The spectacular "Water Cube" Aquatics centre and the "Bird's Nest" Olympic Stadium at Beijing 2008

21-year-old Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, who had been eliminated at the first round of the 200m at Athens in 2004, announced himself as one of world sport's biggest stars at Beijing, producing incredible displays of talent and audacity to win the hearts of the people, as well as three Olympic gold medals.

Bolt smashed the world record for the 100m in emphatic style, creating one of the most iconic moments in Olympic history as he began celebrating with 15 metres to go, before striking his trademark "marksman" pose upon crossing the line with a time of 9.68 seconds.

The 6 foot 5 sprinter did not stop there, however.

Usain Bolt 090113Usain Bolt celebrates as he cross the line, breaking the 100m World record in the process

"Lightning Bolt" went on to break Michael Johnson's 200m world record, recording a 19.30 to become the first man to hold both records simultaneously, and broke the 4x100m relay world record with his Jamaican team-mates to become the first athlete in Olympics history to break three world records at a single Games.

Just next-door at the aquatics centre, the man who won six gold medals at Athens was looking to go two better in an attempt to break countryman Mark Spitz's record of seven gold's at one Games, set at Munich in 1972.

American swimmer Michael Phelps completed an incredible eight gold medal-haul in the 4x100m medley relay to give him the honour of most medals won at a single Games by one athlete.

Michael Phelps 2008Michael Phelps won an unprecedented eight gold medals at Beijing 2008

Two of the greatest athletes to ever compete in the Games achieved unthinkable feats at Beijing 2008, and it is unlikely that any Olympics will rival Beijing in the foreseeable future in terms of athletic achievements, but these Games also produced some incredible stories that will be remembered for years to come.

German weightlifter Matthias Steiner's incredible Olympic story touched the hearts of millions across the world, when he came from nowhere in the +105kg Men's Weightlifting final to beat a personal best, raising the weight of his lifts dramatically by lifting 258kg to give him a total of 461kg.

The Austrian-born weightlifter had promised his late wife, who died in a car crash a year prior to the Olympics in July 2007, that he would fulfil their Olympic dream by bringing home a medal from Beijing.  As Steiner received his medal, he kissed a picture of his late wife and held it in the air, with an expression of elation and heartbreak etched on his face.

Matthias Steiner 2008German weightlifter Matthias Steiner dedicates his gold medal at Beijing 2008 to his late wife Susann

This story led to Steiner becoming a global sensation, making headlines worldwide after his supernatural display of determination, strength and dedication in creating a truly great Olympic story.

The Games closed with the passing of the Olympic flag to Mayor of London Boris Johnson, and with the flag came the immense pressure on Great Britain to produce an Olympic spectacle in 2012 that could even come close to the extraordinary display put on by Beijing.

For the first time in Olympics history, China won the most gold medals amassing 51 in total, 15 more than second placed USA with 36. The Americans won the most medals overall however, finishing with 110 medals to China's 100.

This was the first Games since Barcelona 1992 in which the USA did not win the most gold medals.

Date games held:  August 8-24

Number of nations represented: 204

Number of competitors: 10,942 (4,637 women, 6,305 men)

Number of medal events: 302

Gold medal standings: China 51; USA 36; Russia 23; Great Britain 19; Germany 16
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