Service with a smile. Matthew Sheahan reports from Qingdao on the eve of the biggest show on earth


No one had mentioned that a landing card would be necessary at Qingdao airport. In most countries, arriving with incomplete papers would be greeted with a stern look accompanied with a gesture towards a desk at the back of the hall. Fill out the form, join the back of the queue and try again would be the message. But not China, at least not Qingdao.

Instead, arriving bleary eyed at this particular desk on the other side of the world was met with a smile and a gesture to ‘follow me’. My new found best friend, dressed in her immaculate uniform, not only led me to another desk, but filled in the appropriate paperwork for me before leading me back to my rightful place in the queue.

Barely five steps into China and with my passport stamped and approved another smiling minder guided me through to the baggage reclaim, before escorting me to a smartly dressed driver who took my bags and led me through to his shuttle bus.

Checking into my hotel saw a similar level of hospitality with more smiling faces than a wedding reception and less paperwork than a supermarket checkout. China can’t do enough to welcome its visitors.

Validating my press accreditation at the impressive sailing venue took just 10 minutes, a process that had taken the best part of a day and several bus rides in the sweltering heat of Athens four years ago. The venue and the organisation that accompanies this Olympics is staggering, the only missing ingredient was the wind which refused to rise above 4 knots despite the presence of cumulus clouds held aloft by a shoreside temperature of 32 degrees Celsius.

Yet behind the calm exterior of an event which kicks off tomorrow (Saturday 9 Aug), lies a debate that looks set to be the first major talking point of the sailing Olympics. Tornados and code zero spinnakers.

Measuring in for the Tornado class starts today and finishes on the 12th, during which time several teams may chose to take a rather unconventional approach.

It is no secret that the Dutch and American teams have been experimenting with code zeros and that the Australian team has built such a sail on site in Qingdao in the last few days. It’s also no secret that if the conditions are sufficiently light the radical sail could be blisteringly quick. The downside is that as the breeze comes up the sail, which at 7m2 is considerably smaller than the more typical 12m2 kite will not generate enough power to fly a hull as quickly as the conventional spinnaker, nor allow the crew to sail as deep on the downwind legs.

Under the rules, only one spinnaker can be measured in for the event which provides a dilemma for those who are experimenting with the sail.

“In light weather the sail could be a clear winner, but in 10-14 knots of breeze they could easily be last,” said Team GB sailing team leader Stephen Parks. “We spent a good deal of time looking at this configuration around 9-10 months ago and decided that the risks outweighed the potential advantages. At this stage it’s too late to be making such significant changes.”

But while the Brits remain unfazed by the developments, others are rumoured to be more upset by the recent news with talk of protests and boycotts doing the rounds.

Of course, there is also the possibility that the entire issue is a smokescreen. Either way, while the racing may not have started yet, the Olympic machine is already up to speed.

BBC TV SCHEDULE (Int=BBC Interactive)

Sat 9 day 1: BBC1 1100-1130/ BBC Int 0600-0900/Int repeat 2100-2400

Sun 10 day 2: BBC1 1030-1100/Int 0600-1000/Int repeat 2015-2415

Mon 11 day 3: BBC1 0900-1000/Int 0600-0900/Int repeat 1930-2130

Tues 12 day 4: BBC 1 1100-1130/Int 0600-0900/Int repeat 1800-2100

Wed 13 day 5: BBC1 1100-1130/Int 0600-0900/Int repeat 1430-1745

Thurs 14 day 6: BBC1 1100-1130/Int 0600-0900/Int repeat 1645-2015

Friday 15 day 7: BBC1 0900-0930/Int 0600-0900/Int repeat 1815-2115

Sat 16 day 8: BBC1 1130-1215/Int 0600-1115/Int repeat 1830-2115

Sun 17 day 9: BBC1 1130-1200/Int 0600-0900/1715-2100

Mon 18 day 10: BBC1 0900-0930/Int 0600-1200/Int repeat 1915-2215

Tuesday 19 day 11: BBC1 0900-0930/Int 0600-1100/Int repeat 2000-2300

Wednesday 20 day 12: BBC1 (slot between 0900-1200)/Int 0600-1200/
Int repeat 1700-2115

Thurs 20 day 13: BBC1 0900-1000/Int 0600-1215/Int repeat 1930-2215

Friday 21 day 14: Not in planning