The volleyball stadium at Chaoyang Park is one of the many temporary venues set up for the games. It's a modern structure that holds around 12,000 people. Despite its size, the open design made the venue feel quite intimate.
Before the Olympic Games brought beach volleyball to Beijing, I had never seen girls in bikinis in Beijing. It was a nice surprise to see them at the games and for them to be such an integral part of the whole experience, especially when the Chinese team was on the court. They chanted, Zhong Guo Dui, Jia You ("Come on China team"), to get the spectators on their feet. Cheerleading at the games isn't new. It was introduced at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. But China has taken the concept one step further, as in most things, and has introduced cheerleading to at least 17 Olympic sports. Over 400 girls were selected by the cultural activities department of the Beijing Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games and the gymnastics managing center of the general administration for sports. These sound like serious organizations, but I'm sure the interview process was lively and fun and more like taking part in a "Pop Idol" show than interviewing for a government job.
The volleyball cheerleaders were trained for the dance routines and, more importantly, they were specially tanned so that they looked realistic and believable as beach babes. This is quite unusual in China, as the concept of tanning and sunbathing is normally frowned upon for health and cultural reasons.
Historically, light skin has long been seen as more pure than dark skin and denotes a higher social status both for men and women. Dark skin is seen as less attractive, because it suggests a life spent working outside as a peasant or laborer. This concept has changed very little over the centuries and is perpetuated but the large number of brands like Procter & Gamble's SK-II, whose large range of skin-whitening products are hugely popular among Chinese women.
The cheerleaders have also made sports more mainstream in a country where sports organizers and sponsors are trying to attract a broader cross section of the public, including families and children. They help make the experience more entertaining, so I predict they will become more familiar across all sports.
Sadly, I don't expect to see many "beach babes" in Beijing after the games are over, but China's culture, attitudes and fashion are changing quickly, so it might not be long before they come back.
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