Beijing's monuments to a lost Olympic era
The 2008 Beijing Olympics were probably the last of their kind. In a vastly changed global economic landscape, few future hosts will have the money or the will to stage a mega-event on that scale.
Everything about it was supposed to leave you with a sense of awe. From the venues and the ceremonies to the home team's dominance of the medal table, the Games were designed to announce China's arrival as a global superpower.
Returning to Beijing's Olympic Green for my third and final special report on Olympic legacy, it felt as though little had changed over the last four years.
The Bird's Nest and Water Cube are still decked out in 2008 branding and one can't help feeling that the venues are seen more as monuments to China's big moment in the spotlight than functioning sporting venues.
Beijing's 'Bird's Nest' Olympic stadium is now only rarely used as a sports arena. Photo: Getty
In fact more Chinese tourists - five million to be precise - were drawn to the Olympic Stadium in 2011 than to the Forbidden City.
That's because, for the vast majority of Chinese people, staging the Olympics was a moment of immense national pride.
That is perhaps why there is little concern about the way the organisers planned for their legacy use once the Olympic flame had been passed to London.
Li Ning, China's most famous Olympian and now a hugely successful businessman, was the man given the honour of lighting the flame on that steamy, extraordinary night back in 2008.
In an exclusive interview he told me that the Olympics opened China to the world and the world to China. That's why it was so special.
But he nevertheless conceded he had some concerns over the way the stadiums were now being used and the lack of funding for grassroots sport and coaching since the Olympic circus rolled on. To hear the six-time Olympic medallist - such a prominent figure in Chinese sport - making any criticism is deeply significant in a communist country where people are still not able to express their opinions freely.
China's markets and economy might have opened up but critics, such as the artist and Bird's Nest designer Ai Weiwei, believe that when it comes to human rights the country is going backwards.
In a BBC interview for the report, carried out before I arrived in Beijing, he added that he felt the Games had done nothing for the people of China.
"Beijing would become the most quickly forgotten Games," he added.
Of course whenever the International Olympic Committee was accused of turning a blind eye to China's human rights record, it would argue that giving the Games to the most populated country on earth would accelerate change.
There is scant evidence of this. Ai Weiwei was arrested and detained by police last year and is under constant surveillance from the authorities. And the recent controversy over dissident Chen Guangcheng has served to heighten concerns.
While in Beijing I also spoke to a leading editor on one of China's biggest websites. He told me it was a fact of life that censors from the government worked among his staff deleting articles and comments on forums which were considered out of line with state policy.
"It's a fact of life and we just have to get on with it," he says.
For what it's worth my personal impression was that the city felt slightly more relaxed four years on - but that was probably more to do with the absence of the unique pressures that come with hosting the Olympics. I was at least able to ask an official, Jiang Xiaoyu, the deputy chairman of the Beijing Olympic City Development Agency (BODA), a question on human rights.
You won't be surprised that he dismissed any concerns but he did acknowledge that progress on human rights was slow.
Over the last few months I have been lucky to visit three of the last five summer Olympic cities - Beijing, Barcelona and Sydney - for a special series for the Six and Ten O'Clock News and the Today programme.
Interestingly a few themes have emerged which serve as vital pointers for London who, from the start of their Olympic journey seven years ago, have placed legacy right at the heart of their vision for the Games.
*In each of the three cities the national pride (often referred to as intangible benefits) can't be easily dismissed. To varying degrees all three cities had their own reasons for wanting to enhance their international reputations. But does London, already a renowned world-class city, need this and if it does what sort of message about modern Britain and its capital city does it really want to send this summer?
A summer of flag waving might make us all feel better but it may come to feel a bit hollow unless we can do what they did in Barcelona and Sydney and use it to help foster a greater sense of national identity and community.
*Olympic stadiums which retain a running track struggle to find a workable, financially viable legacy. In Sydney's case the stadium is only the success it is today because it decided to rip up the track after the Games and concentrate on field sports. Besides exhibition matches, concerts and a winter theme park, the Bird's Nest is barely used for anything other than tourism.
In Barcelona, the main anchor tenant, football club Espanyol, moved out, leaving the local council with a costly, if beautifully built, stadium which has no long-term future.
London is hoping West Ham will finally do a deal to move in and rent the venue - running track included - but the process has been delayed again and is still not certain. Although it has given them welcome breathing space now, organisers and the government are sure to regret rushing the original designs which ruled out converting the stadium to a proper multi-use venue which catered for Premier League football first with an option to modify the layout for track and field in the summer.
*The IOC makes demands which no city can reasonably be expected to cope with. Only Sydney, after a decade of late legacy planning, has managed to now find proper sustainable uses for the majority of its venues. Beijing and Barcelona have fared less well. London is hoping its use of temporary venues and advanced planning will buck the trend on legacy but the IOC must know that asking cities to build facilities for 26 simultaneous world championships in one place every four years is unsustainable at a time of such difficult economic circumstances.
Rome's withdrawal and the absence of an American contender in the race for the 2020 Olympics is a clear sign that the days of world-class cities bidding for the Games may be coming to an end.
*In each of the cities I went to, it was extremely difficult to find any hard evidence that staging the Games led to a significant boost to sports participation. In fact most people I asked told me exactly the opposite. This was most surprising in Australia where they have an even greater obesity crisis than in the UK. This was the biggest problem for the Government last year, who relaunched the participation strategy having abandoned the Labour administration's promise to get an extra one million people active through sport by 2012.
Despite hopes that lottery money will shore up public funding for elite and grassroots sport after the Games, the UK economy is showing such sluggish growth and there are no guarantees. Future ministers may find they are having to deliver decade old promises on legacy against a backdrop of further cuts - a position which may become difficult to justify.
*Finally, to finish on a more positive note, there is no doubt the Games can provide a huge boost to a city's infrastructure. Beijing and Barcelona benefited from extra investment in roads, airports and in the Catalan capital's case - a new beach and port development which changed the city's image completely. Already the benefits are being felt in Stratford with the new Olympic park, housing, Westfield and improved train and tube stations.
But has London been ambitious enough? One of the architects involved in the Barcelona project told me the Olympic Park should have been enlarged and designed to stretch further southwards to meet the River Thames, thus creating a far bigger park and more homes. He argued that would have had a far more transformative effect on the capital's deprived East End. And besides the javelin train from St Pancras International to Stratford, there are barely any major transport changes you can link directly to the Games. Non-Olympic related projects such as Heathrow's Terminal 5 have made a difference and Crossrail will obviously have a major impact when it is finished.
But London's creaking transport infrastructure remains largely the same and, besides the East End, the rest of the city has been untouched.