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Cover Stories Series 2011> Wenchuan Quake:Three Years Later> Wenchuan in Retrospect> 2008
UPDATED: May 21, 2008 NO. 21 MAY 22, 2008
Putting Their Best Feet Forward
Foreign diplomats in Beijing hit the road in a solidarity fun run for the Olympics

WELL RUN: Chen Haosu (first from left), President of the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, and Slovenia's Ambassador to China Marjan Cencen (second from left) present certificates to the runners on April 26 (XINHUA)

It was a day out of the office for Philippe le Gall. Clad in a baggy white T-shirt and black running shorts, the Seychelles' ambassador to China looked ready for action.

Le Gall was running a 1-km race in a villa complex in northeast Beijing, where the Slovenian Embassy is located. The race, hosted by the embassy on April 26, 104 days before the opening of the Beijing Olympics, attracted diplomats from about 50 countries. Its theme was "diplomats running for peace and friendship."

"I think it is an excellent initiative," le Gall said. "It is a way for the diplomatic corps to show its interest in the Olympic Games and the solidarity of China to host this event."

While recognizing China's preparation efforts, foreign diplomats highlighted the enthusiasm of their countries and national teams about participating in the upcoming Olympic Games.

The race was staged not only to present the European Union (EU) to the Chinese people and the diplomatic community in Beijing, but also to mark the countdown to 100 days to the Olympics, according to organizers. Slovenia holds the EU's rotating presidency in the first half of this year.

Slovenia's initiative illustrated the importance the EU countries attach to their relations with China, said Chen Haosu, President of the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries. Held at a time when the Olympic torch relay is taking place around the world, the diplomats' race conveyed the international community's aspirations for world peace and best wishes for the Olympics, he said. Chen's association is one of the cosponsors of the race.

"I am sure this Olympics will be one of the most successful and best so far, in terms of both competition and socializing," said Marjan Cencen, Slovenian Ambassador to China.

LET'S GO: Seychelles' Ambassador to China Philippe le Gall dashes toward the finish line amid the cheers of children on April 26 (XINHUA)

He said the Slovenian Embassy is actively preparing for the Olympics. It not only regularly cooperates with the Slovenian Olympic Committee, but also has set up an "Olympic House" in Beijing to showcase Slovenia during the games. Moreover, it offers guidance to Slovenian spectators coming to Beijing to watch the games.

Finland's Ambassador to China Antti Kuosmanen believes the Olympics are important not only for the Chinese people but also for the rest of the world. The sports-loving nation will send some 60 athletes to the games, taking part in a wide range of events such as shooting, sailing and track and field events.

Winning isn't everything

Le Gall seemingly exhausted when he finished the race. But in his eyes, participation comes before competition. Although Seychelles, an island country in the Indian Ocean, will not send a big team to the Beijing Olympics, it counts on the games to boost the morale and capacity of its athletes, the ambassador said.

"I think what is important is to participate and compete with the best athletes from all over the world," he said. "If we cannot get any medals, we can at least break some of our own national records."

The Seychellois president will attend the opening ceremony of the games to support the country's sportsmen.

Regarding the protests during the torch relay in some Western countries, le Gall said they represented a "total lack of respect" for the torch bearers, the values and principles of Olympics and the international sports community.

The athletes, who have put great efforts into preparing for the Olympics, should by no means be prevented from showing their best at the games, Cencen said. Olympics should not be politicized and other opportunities are available to pursue political goals, he said.

Cencen said that he sees many positive contributions of the Olympics to China's future development. For example, the Chinese people will have an opportunity to learn more about other countries. They will also be more aware of the importance of environmental protection.

Kuosmanen echoed Cencen's views. He believes all the transformation in China is affected by the fact that the country is hosting the Olympic Games. "The games will certainly be a great memory for everybody, not only the athletes but also the population at large," he said.

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