The fifth section is perhaps the most fascinating for the pure Olympic enthusiast. There is a special presentation of medals and torches from all of the Summer Olympics, along with a comprehensive account of the modern games. The presentations are accompanied by a huge array of memorabilia, from a bizarre wooden bicycle from the 19th century, to a very special shoe with a very special story. It was worn by Wilma Rudolph, the athlete who perhaps comes closest in the whole history of the Games to embodying the true Olympic Spirit.
Wilma was born in 1940 into a poor black family in Clarkesville Tennessee, the twentieth of twenty-two children. She was stricken with polio, a crippling disease that forced her to wear a leg brace until she was twelve years old. She overcame her disadvantaged background and this physical handicap to become the best sprinter in the world, winning gold medals at the 1960 Games in 100m, 200m, and 4x100m relay, and stands forever as a true champion and Olympian.
Many such tales are told. My own favorite concerns an athlete with a story perhaps even stranger than Wilma Rudolph's. In the 1904 St Louis Olympics, American athlete George Eyser won six medals in the gymnastic competitions, including three golds. What takes his achievement into the realms of the surreal is that Eyser managed this extraordinary feat – more than fifty years before the founding of the Paralympics – with a wooden leg.
I could spend a day writing about the One World, One Dream Exhibition, but I would rather recommend that people take a day to visit and see for themselves…
On October 24, 1907, Zhang Boling, the headmaster of Nankai High School in Tianjin, made a speech to the 5th All-Tianjin School Sports Meet. He asked three stirring questions, recorded for posterity in the Tiantsin Young Men Journal of May 2008, and repeated by American missionary Clarence Hover Robertson in his report to the Tiantsin Schools Association on September 30 that year: "When will China first be able to send an athlete to the Olympic Games?", "When will China send a team to compete in the Olympic Games?", and memorably: "When will China host the Olympic Games?"
In 1932 Liu Changchun, a sprinter from North East University, was China's first and only representative at the Los Angeles Summer Games. In 1952 China sent its first team to Helsinki. And in 2008, Beijing is giving the best possible answer to Zhang Boling's final question.