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Beijing Targeting Couch Potatoes

July 12, 2001

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BEIJING (AP) _ Mrs. Zhou is keen for Beijing to play host to the 2008 Summer Olympics, but it’s a walking machine that really gets her heart racing.

Exercise machines like the gadget that swings the 71-year-old retiree’s legs back and forth have sprung up in parks across the city as part of a sports campaign that complements Beijing’s Olympic bid.

They are so popular that Beijing plans to have 1,294 of the yellow-and-blue sets in place by the end of 2001, up from 164 at the end of last year. The city calls the effort the ``All People’s Fitness Project.″

At nearly any time of day or night, Beijingers can be seen swinging on monkey bars, stretched-out on sit-up benches or straining on stretching machines. Others test their coordination jumping between metal stumps raised a few inches above the ground.

``They’re great. Now there’s a place for us old folks to stretch our limbs,″ said Zhou, a retired clothing factory worker who spends her mornings in a park in the leafy Beijing embassy district.

China is best known for its Olympians, but more ordinary folks are joining in sports thanks to a booming economy that has given them more money for leisure.

Elderly Beijingers practice the traditional Chinese calisthenics known as tai chi in the morning. Badminton courts are packed on weekends, and table tennis fanatics play in parks on concrete tables with bricks for a net.

Young Chinese are mad about soccer and basketball, while couples gather in parks and parking lots in morning and evening for ballroom dancing.

With so many neighborhoods broken up by urban development, the exercise machines bring together neighbors of all generations, said Yan Naxin, a city sports official who oversaw the project.

``We’re very satisfied with the results. The people are very satisfied with the results,″ Yan said.

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