For most of the people, the Beijing Olympics was unforgettable. They will remember Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps, and those athletes who won their countries' first ever medals. The Chinese will remember most not the record of 51 gold medals, but the jubilant 16 days they presented to the outside world.
From Aug. 8 to 24, the Games were in the world's spotlight. Besides the joy and sorrow they experienced at the sports events, visitors were entertained by the hospitable citizens and volunteers, the well-organized events, and the fantastic sports venues.
"These were truly exceptional Games," said International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Jacques Rogge, before he declared the Games closed in front of 90,000 jubilant spectators in the National Stadium, or the Bird's Nest.
Since the Olympic flame was extinguished on the evening of Aug. 24, the jubilant mood lingers in the hearts of ordinary people. A Beijing resident named Bu Ju remembered the excitement.
"When I was in the sports venues, the most English words I said were 'Where are you from'," said Bu, "It was like a huge international party. I was very proud of the country hosting the whole world."
The Games attracted a record number of participants - from a record 204 IOC member countries and regions. At the opening ceremony, more than 80 heads of states and governments were present, the most in Olympic history. American broadcaster NBC found the Games was the most watched U.S. television event of all time.
Although the IOC appealed against attempts to politicize the Games, many people still view the Olympics from beyond the sports and thus attendance or non-attendance became a political issue in some countries.
After earlier hinting that he would not attend the opening ceremony, French President Nicolas Sarkozy finally appeared in the Bird's Nest on Aug. 8. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was criticized by his predecessor, Jean Chretien, for not attending.
"When the international community voted for Beijing to host the Games seven years ago, they had trust in China's reform and opening-up policy," said Professor Hu Angang, profession with Tsinghua University. "The clustering of foreign state leaders and elites at the opening ceremony again showed that the international community had voted in favor of the direction of the country's development."
China's current spell of fast development dates from 1978, when the whole country had just emerged from the mass mania of the 10-year Cultural Revolution. The people were more focused on trying to feed themselves, and hosting an Olympic Games was inconceivable. China even had to give up hosting the Asian Games in 1978 because it lacked enough sports facilities.
The past three decades have seen an average GDP growth rate of almost 10 percent a year, making China the world's fourth largest economy after the United States, Japan and Germany. With economic power, China had the money for hosting the Games.
In 2001, China entered the World Trade Organization (WTO), the same year it won the bid to host the 2008 Olympics.
"After 30 years of development, China, with a population of 1.3 billion, has really become a part of the world and the biggest stakeholder," said Hu.
China adopted international practices in the Olympics. IOC officials, foreign administrative teams and foreign sponsors were engaged deeply in the Games. From the design of the Bird's Nest, to the broadcasting and administrative work, they helped improve the level of the Games.
More international cooperation, more foreigners in Beijing. Currently, the city's police department estimated almost 500,000 foreigners were in Beijing, permanently and temporarily, a 42-percent increase over the same period the previous year.
"When I saw foreigners in Beijing's streets a decade ago, I probably would stop and look at them," said Bu, "but I will not do that again. Foreigners are a dime a dozen here."
Changes are huge compared with the 1990 Asian Games in Beijing. A veteran Chinese journalist recalled that during the Asian Games, volunteers acted like guards and policemen in front of journalists. They often stopped "suspicious" persons for questioning.
"Yet, during the 2008 Olympics, every volunteer had a smile, and journalists faced few difficulties in reporting," the journalist said on condition of anonymity.