|A clock in Tienanmen Square has been counting down the hours, minutes and seconds until the opening of the XXIXth Olympic Summer Games in Beijing on 8 August. For 17 days the eyes of the world will be on China. Beijing is ready. It has been preparing for the sports festival for several years, building fourteen new Olympic arenas and upgrading another thirty-six.
Preparations have included more than sports arenas. Beijing itself has been transformed into a modern, world metropolis. The Chinese want to show that life in the Olympic city is equal to anything in the West. Modern though it is, Beijing is still distinguished by its magnificent cultural monuments. With a history going back more than 5000 years, this unique civilization has a formidable cultural heritage. Many people believe that the 2008 Games will surpass everything and can add a new dimension to the phrase "The best games ever".
The Norwegian team of 80 or so athletes are in place in Beijing, ready to contend for medals. Norway's target is ten medals, which is three more than four years ago in Athens. However, five of those were gold medals and that may be difficult to live up to. The competing Norwegian athletes are well-prepared. They have been training for Beijing for a long time. The main focus of the last few months has been on the athletes that are regarded as the strongest candidates for medals. They have learned to meet the challenge of competing in high temperatures and polluted air, and many have undergone individual acclimatisation programmes.
Norway Post has already picked out two winners for its stamps. They are javelin thrower Andreas Thorkildsen and handball player Gro Hammerseng. Since his surprise Olympic victory in Athens in 2004, Thorkildsen has won two silver medals in World Championships and one European gold. Our reigning Olympic champion is one of the favourites for another gold medal. Gro Hammerseng is competing for the first time in an Olympic Games. She has already won a European gold medal for Norway, and a World silver medal in 2007 qualified her for the Olympic team. This is the fourth time Norway's handball women are competing in the Olympics. Norway has previously won two silver and one bronze medal and is one of the favourites for the top place this year.