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Steve Kelley: At the Olympics

Steve Kelley, a Seattle Times sports columnist for 25 years, is covering his eighth Olympics. He'll share news and tidbits as the Beijing Games unfold.

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August 6, 2008 8:18 AM

Hobbled and hot, but Beijingers are more than welcoming

Posted by Steve Kelley

Gingerly I stepped off the bus as it parked in front of the North Star Media Village, my home for the next three weeks and -- whoosh -- three bright-faced Chinese college students rushed to my aid as if they thought I was about to topple into a flaming pit.

You see, the day before I left for China I stepped into a hole while I running and sprained an ankle in the fall. Now, after an 11-hour flight, I was hobbling. Put it this way, Jose Vidro could beat me in a race to first base. Getting off the bus I must have looked to those students like I was John McCain's grandfather.

But I'm not looking for pity. The point of this story is that, in these first days of the Olympic experience, even the usually stony-faced customs agents smiled and asked me if I was excited about the Games. China's people are making the world feel welcomed. From the time I got off the plane, people have jumped to lend me a hand. They pushed my baggage cart all the way through the airport to the bus. They wouldn't let me load my bags onto the bus. One of the kids even grabbed my elbow and led me to the seat. I was equal parts humiliated and grateful. At least early in my stay, I'm going to have to rely on the kindness of strangers while my ankle shrinks.

At the door of our high-rise apartment building, two uniformed kids, with sashes that say, "Welcome," open the door every single time anybody enters the building.

Now for the other side of the story. The air stinks. Imagine being inside a sock. That's what it feels and smells like here. There is a layer of air hanging over the city that looks like a wet, dirty dish towel. The air actually has texture and it holds in the heat like asbestos. If it stays this bad, I can't imagine how any athletes could run an 800 meters, let alone a marathon. Maybe a storm system will blow in before the track and field events. There are rumblings a storm is brewing that could disrupt the opening ceremony.

Still there is something magical about being here. As I was coming into the city on Monday, I remembered watching on TV as Richard Nixon's motorcade drove from the airport into downtown Beijing. China seemed so foreign then, it was like watching Neil Armstrong walking on the moon. That's how mysterious this place was then and some of that mystery still exists.

I've been fortunate enough to visit some exotic spots -- Afghanistan, Malawi, Kilimanjaro. This feels exotic like they felt. And every morning I wake up and remind myself I'm in China -- in China, covering the Olympics. That's pretty cool.

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