Viewers from around the globe marvelled at the Opening Ceremony last Friday. One of the most spectacular features was the martial arts display by 2008 pupils from the famous Shaolin Centre in Henan province. With coordinated movements, they showed the Tai Chi variant of Kung Fu; a popular way to relax for many Chinese people.
The skilful and well-executed show took a severe toll on many of the participants; both those who took part and the performers who were held in reserve.
Many of the martial arts performers feel abused and ignored by the Olympic organizers. For the last year, they have been housed 50 to a room, more than 70 kilometres from the ‘Bird’s Nest’ National arena. This is where they have slept, eaten and spent all their time.
Leaving the compound around the barracks was strictly forbidden. The dormitories are crammed with bunk beds. Between 30 and 50 of the teenagers spent the night in each room. Only a few of the showers work and the toilet facilities have been bad. The winter was icy and in summer, the pupils had to battle against mosquitoes and the heat.
"After repeated complaints they finally installed air-conditioning in the sleeping quarters. However, most of the equipment was so old that it didn't work," says one of the pupils.
Most of the 2500 performers have been sent home after the opening ceremony. The few that remain in order to take part in the closing ceremony are extremely angry about the treatment they have received from the Olympic organizers.
"The food is the worst thing. We’ve had the same two courses for dinner for a year. Sometimes there hasn't been enough for everyone. Those who have arrived last haven't got anything to eat," says a pupil.
He adds that he "wants to throw up," when the food is served.
"We never get noodles or dumplings. All we get is rice," he says.
Another pupil describes his disappointment as he arrived in Beijing last year. "We were proud at being chosen to take part. We all had great dreams about what we were going to do, what we were going to see and what big stars we would become, but all we've seen is the inside of this military camp. The only thing we dream of now is going home," he says.
Conditions have been so bad that their trainer, Kung Fu master Liu Haike, has sent a series of complaints to the Olympic organizers. The complaints did have some effect.
"In the end, the pupils got enough to eat, even if the diet was extremely monotonous," he says to daily newspaper Aftenposten.
Liu describes pressure from the organizers as extreme. Everything had to be perfect. As result the performers had to practice up to 16 hours a day. "The test performance of the opening ceremony was worst of all. The pupils had to remain in the stadium for 51 hours. They were hardly fed. There was nowhere to sleep. Some managed to sleep on the seats, but they didn't get more than a couple of hours at most," says Liu.
He adds that several of the pupils got heatstroke, but their physical training meant that they got better again relatively quickly. Liu says that he felt very sorry for his pupils and the way that they were treated.
"But the organizers have promised them an Olympic certificate thanking them for their effort. They will not receive pay. Nevertheless I think that the majority will think that it was good to do what they did for the Olympics and their country," says Liu.