The Gritty Core of Beijing’s Olympic Infrastructure

Liu won the hurdles final the next night, again with ease. Stadium volunteers formed a barricade to keep the crowd away, then scurried after him down the hallway themselves. His press conference was scheduled for the very end of the evening.

While I was waiting, my phone buzzed with a text message from another reporter: “A3. Exit. Architect. Now!” I hustled around the concourse to find J Parrish, the architectural director of Arup Sport. He was tall and bearded and loquacious. According to his business card, the J has no period after it. He was politely telling a radio reporter that he had no idea what the opening ceremonies might involve.

What, I asked, apologetically, were the columns made of? Parrish looked around us. “Concrete,” he said, indicating the nearest one, and continuing on: “Concrete, concrete, concrete … steel.”

I double-checked: steel? The outermost layer of columns in the Nest, the key to the structure, were indeed steel, he said. Steel boxes, in cross section, of various thicknesses. The thicket of columns on the inside, crisscrossing the concourses, were concrete, mostly. All the columns were painted silver, to match.

You might need to hit them with a hammer, Mr. Parrish said, to tell the difference.

Mr. Liu gave his press conference. Who, a perky male reporter with an American accent asked, would he describe as his role model? “Zhende hai meiyou,” Liu said, beginning his response. (“I don’t have any particular role model or idols,” the official translator said.)

It was near midnight when I exited the stadium. I had a long hike ahead to get a cab. First, though, I veered back to the outer row of columns, and I knocked on one, with force. It rang.

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