|Beijing, a frenetic metropolis of industry, commerce and government, played host over two remarkable days to one of the world's great platforms of debate. The sorrowful willow trees and quiet lakes on the campus of Peking University seemed almost amiss in a city bursting with excitement and energy before the 2008 Olympic Games. And yet this was the ideal backdrop for the 2008 What Makes a Champion Forum – a unique, historical gathering of international leaders and visionaries, sharing their individual perceptions of the ingredients that define excellence and success.
The forum – the brainchild of Professor Allan Snyder, Director of The Centre for the Mind at the University of Sydney – has become an official, IOC-recognised Olympic event, first held at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games and to be repeated for a third time at the London 2012 Games.
Over two days, August 4-5, the forum assembled a remarkable array of Western and Eastern champions at a series of presentations and panels, all recorded by China's largest television station, CCTV. Several famous English-speaking Chinese TV presenters hosted and moderated the discussions, which sought to discover the keys to championship, compare Eastern and Western understandings thereof, and highlight its universality.
Joining the champions were more than forty award-winning student delegates from numerous Chinese universities, as well as the universities of Harvard, Stanford and Sydney.
International guests, staff and students of Peking University, Olympic volunteers, international media and student delegates, quickly filled the Hall of the Centennial Memorial Auditorium on the first day of the forum.
The stage of the Hall itself had been transformed into a glittering, sophisticated platform of lights and sound systems, featuring an enormous television screen, elaborate flower decorations and a sleek, glass rostrum.
Visionary former British Prime Minister Tony Blair opened the 2008 forum with a galvanising keynote address that highlighted seven key areas of championship - among them, persistence, courage and striving for success. The former UK leader also delighted the audience by trying his hand at Mandarin with a friendly greeting of “ni hao”. Following his speech, Professor Snyder presented Mr Blair with a Centre for the Mind Fellowship Medal, while Peking University President, Xu Zhihong, gifted him with a portrait.
Professors Snyder and Zhihong also spoke at the forum’s Opening Ceremony, along with Xiao Gang (the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Bank of China), and Peter Ueberroth (the President of the United States Olympic Committee) – the latter framing his speech about championship and the Olympic Games through an historical prism. Following their addresses, the first panel was convened – comprising Tony Blair, Allan Snyder, acclaimed composer and Oscar-winner Tan Dun, Chinese women’s volleyball world champion Sun Jinfang and the CEO of Legend Holdings Ltd. Liu Chuanzhi.
Ten university students then directed questions at the panel, whose ensuing discussion was moderated by CCTV presenter Wang Lifen. The distinguished speakers responded to questions about adversity, inspiration, making compromises, and the importance of a champion’s environment, among others.
The second day's first panel, held at the Yingjie International Exchange Centre and entitled ‘The Role that Eastern and Western Cultures Play in Shaping a Champion’, was moderated by Yang Lang of CCTV. It was opened Dr Henry Kissenger, whose keynote address examined the role of championship in the field of international relations. Next to speak were Ian Thorpe, Yang Yang (a Chinese Winter Olympic gold medallist) and acclaimed violinist Lu Siqing.
A panel discussion was then convened, comprising Thorpe, Yang, Siqing, Kevan Gosper (the Chairman of the IOC Press Commission) and Chang Hsin-Kang (the Foreign Academician of the Royal Society of Engineering of the UK). Both moderator Yang Lang and students posed questions and stimulated discussion.
The second panel, entitled ‘The Similarities in Eastern and Western Championship from a Personal Perspective’, saw the Non-Executive Deputy Director of HSBC Laura Cha and legendary film star Jackie Chan share their individual perspectives on championship and achieving success. A panel was then convened, and comprised Cha, Chan, renowned director Yu Long, Dong Qiang (Translator of the Olympic Declaration) and Chinese Olympic gold medallist Luo Xuejuan. A question and answer session followed, before a lunch break created a brief interlude in the proceedings. The remaining addresses and discussions recommenced at 1pm.
The third and fourth panels, themed ‘Contextualising a Champion from Epoch to Epoch’ were moderated by CCTV presenter Riu Chenggang. IOC Honorary President Juan Antonio Samaranch presented the opening address, wishing luck to the participants of the 2008 Olympic Games. Tu Weiming (Harvard University Professor of Philosophy), Chen Shiyi (Dean of the College of Engineering of Peking University) and acclaimed pianist Li Yundi, also presented speeches.
A panel discussion then saw Weiming, Shiyi, Yundi, Michael Yu (Chairman of the board of Directors of New Oriental Education & Technology Group) and Anthony David Lemons (Head of the Physical Education Department at Cambridge University), engage in discussion about championship through history.
Zhang Weiming (Dean of the Guanghua School of Management of Peking University), Hao Weimin (2007 Nobel Laureate and Member of the IPCC) and David Armstrong (former Editor-in-Chief of The Australian and current CEO of The Bangkok Post) then presented speeches, before being joined in a panel discussion by Liang Dong (the Executive Director and President of Taimei Science and Technology) and Liu Wei (the Chinese World Champion for table tennis).
The final discussions and speeches, which took place after all of the guests had reconvened from an afternoon tea break, addressed the topic ‘You Too Can be a Champion’ and was moderated by television presenter Shui Junyi.
The fifth panel discussion, entitled ‘Championship in Adversity’, featured opening speeches by Hou Bin (a Chinese Paralympic Gold Medallist) and Xu Zhuangzhi (a journalist from Xinhua News Agency, who was the first reporter to reach the Sichuan region following this year’s devastating earthquakes). The two were then joined in a panel discussion by dancer Ma Li, Zhao Min (the General Manager of Beijing Open & Distance Education Centre), Yang Yan (a Special Olympic Gold Medalist) and Professor Allan Snyder.
The forum's final speakers, who addressed the topic ‘All of Us Have Championship Qualities’, were Li Suli (the Chinese National Model Worker) and Lou Yun (a Chinese Olympic Gold Medallist). The two then participated in a panel discussion with Huang Nubo (the Chairman of Beijing Zhongkun Investment Group’s Board of Directors), Zhao Jihua (a former CDPF Executive Board Member), Shi Qinghua (the founder of the Light and Love School) and Professor Allan Snyder.
Before presenting his concluding speech and vote of thanks during the Closing Ceremony, Professor Snyder read a letter sent by Lord Sebastian Coe, the President of the UK Olympic Committee, who could not attend the forum in person due to having to care for his ailing father.
Professor Snyder then declared that the 2008 forum would be difficult to surpass in terms of the standard it had set. He thanked Peking University and all of the members associated with the prestigious event by drawing, quite appropriately, upon the Mandarin thank-you, “shie shie”.
The second day of the forum, and its 10-hour series of debates and speeches, was concluded by a banquet at the university's Shao Yuan Guesthouse restaurant, where distinguished guests and students alike toasted a happy and successful end to an extraordinary meeting of outstanding individuals.