2008 Summer Olympics Winner: Beijing Other Candidates: Toronto, Paris, Istanbul, Osaka, Seville, Bangkok, Havana, Kuala Lumpur

The Beijing Olympics was controversial from the start.

Beijing had already failed in its bid previously, but when the decision was announced in July 2001, it was surrounded by conditions and caveats concerning human rights, freedom of speech and so on. Some of those commitments were met, others not so much.

When the Olympic torch was lit in March 2008 and began its journey around the world, protestors managed to overshadow its progress. These protestors, mainly from the Free Tibet movement, aimed to highlight China's involvement in Tibet.

During the Games, atmospheric pollution led to complaints and concerns. Athletes pulled out because of concerns over asthma; others pulled out due to concerns over human rights violations in the People's Republic.

There were complaints that not all seat tickets had been sold at the inflated prices asked by the Chinese organisers, and tales of peasants being bussed in from miles around to fill the empty stadia.

Despite all these complaints, the Beijing Games ended up as a triumph.

Although the number of athletes was slightly down on previous years (10,500 compared with 10,651 in Sydney), there were more countries (205), more sports (35), more events (302, up by one) and more medals than ever before. Beijing was always going to be a sporting feast.

However, the politicians in Beijing saw this as an opportunity to prove China on the world stage, so China created world-class stadia (37 competition venues, with 10 in Beijing), top-of-the range facilities and spared no expense on the opening ceremony — a reported $100 million.

Thousands (2008, to be exact) of drummers beat in the Games with perfect choreography, and high-tech, illuminated drums counting down the seconds. Glowing drumsticks highlighted their synchronicity. The ceremony began at 8pm on 08/08/2008.

China invented fireworks and the Beijing games used them to great effect. 20,000 fireworks were set off during the ceremony and it took 600 people to set them off.

The show was directed by Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou.

There were quibbles about the use of lip-synching by a young girl singer during the ceremony. While all the 'footprint' fireworks were set off, the version released to the TV broadcasters included mostly CGI simulations of the fireworks, as the atmosphere was too cloudy (or polluted) to show them properly.

Notable events:

Eight gold medals for Michael Phelps (USA) in the swimming pool. Ian (Thorpedo) Thorpe was not competing.

Three gold medals each for Stephanie Rice of Australia (swimming), Chris Hoy of Great Britain (Cycling), Kai Zou of China in the Mens' gymnastics and Usain Bolt of Jamaica in the athletics.

Not only did Bolt win three golds, but he smashed three world records in the flagship athletics events: the 100m and 200m and the men's 4 x 100m Relay.

The United States lost its dominance of the medals table, as the home country won more golds than silver and bronze combined, putting it ahead in the table (below). The US still won more medals, but its medals were split equally between gold, silver and bronze, whereas the table is built on the basis of gold medals.

The hosts of the next summer Games, Great Britain, did remarkably well. The nation usually comes around 10th in the medal table but this year finished fourth, both on gold medals and on total medal count. Like China, they won more golds than the lesser medals, and came ahead of European rivals Germany and France, but also Australia, to the surprise of both nations.

Top nations medal table

                  Gold   Silver  Bronze  | Total  Rank by total
1   China           51      21      28   |  100      2
2   United States   36      38      36   |  110      1
3   Russian Fed.    23      21      28   |   72      3
4   Great Britain   19      13      15   |   47      4
5   Germany         16      10      15   |   41      6
6   Australia       14      15      17   |   46      5
7   Korea           13      10       8   |   31      8
8   Japan            9       6      10   |   25     11
9   Italy            8      10      10   |   28      9
10  France           7      16      17   |   40      7
11  Ukraine          7       5      15   |   27     10
12  Netherlands      7       5       4   |   16     16
13  Jamaica          6       3       2   |   11     20

Sources, further information