One year from Wednesday, Aug. 8, the 2008 Olympic Games will begin in Beijing -- focusing the world's attention on China like never before.
The Asian giant is already the subject of intense focus: A growth rate of 11% and a still-developing economy -- and controversy over the yuan, software piracy and the safety of Chinese exports. Then there's the more than 1 billion potential customers, a consumer base sought by domestic and foreign firms alike.
As part of our one-year countdown to the games, which NBC will televise, CNBC sent Darren Rovell and Melissa Lee to China for a series of special reports.
Watch this space all week as we roll out our coverage.
Beijing Building Boom
CNBC's Melissa Lee reports on the building boom from a myriad of construction sites in China's capital.
"But it's not just the city of Beijing gearing up for the Olympics: Businesses are busy building too, hoping they'll see the payoff when the torch is lit -- and long after it's extinguished," reports Lee.
Firms staking claims include Marriott International, which began laying foundations for new J.W. Marriott and posh Ritz-Carlton hotels in 2002, a year after the IOC awarded the games to China. By the Games' commencement, Marriott alone will have added 2,800 new rooms to the market.
McDonald's is beefing up its 811 Chinese restaurants, adding four more eateries in Beijing alone -- two in the Olympic Village, reserved for athletes and media for the Games' duration. The world's biggest restaurant chain is already recruiting 1,200 new employees for its Chinese units.
On the construction end, heavy-equipment manufacturer Caterpillar plans to triple its China sales by 2010. Company spokesman Jim Dugan cited "tremendous" mining and highway work "everywhere" in the country.
The Games and The Markets
The Chinese stock market has been booming for the past few years and setting new record highs, even as U.S. stocks wilted recently.
CNBC's Melissa Lee reports on the dynamic but often volatile market.
George Yuan runs his own import and export business – and has pumped 75% of his savings into stocks. “Everyone says if you don’t invest in stocks, you’re stupid,” he told Lee. “And everyone is looking at Olympics 2008” as a magnet for more capital, domestically and from abroad, he said.
Despite the superheated growth, Yuan advises investors to avoid euphoria: "You just have to be careful. Listen to your own thoughts, not those of others."
"Little Emperors," Royal Tastes
Cartier, Gucci, SaksFifth Avenue: Melissa Lee reports that 25% of the world's luxury goods will end up in Shanghai shops, including these, over the next 10 years. The buyers are China's so-called "little emperors," a burgeoning nouveau-riche demographic endowed with "a taste for luxury -- and the money to spend."
Lee interviews 23-year-old Liu Ming, who was born under China's single-child policy -- and has been given a Beijing garments factory as a gift from his parents, to launch his own apparel line.
Counterpoint: Lee also speaks to Hedy Lee, Chinese author and social critic, who casts a jaundiced eye on the new breed of "spoiled brats" who "don't know how to make money -- only how to spend it."
Air Xiang: Nike’s China Strategy
Footwear is one of the biggest segments of sports apparel – and the 2008 Games are “seen as a vehicle for those who seek to open up this thriving market,” reports CNBC’s Darren Rovell.
He attended the gala opening of Nike Beijing, the biggest of the firm’s 3,000 Chinese locations. Charlie Denson, Nike Brand president, told Rovell “the opportunity long-term still is very large.”
Denson said Nike has inked a hometown hero for endorsements: China’s gold-medal winning hurdler Liu Xiang: “When I think of him, I think of what Michael Jordan meant to Nike in the ‘80s and ‘90s.”
Chinese athletes in 22 of 28 sports will don Nike gear – but if they win medals, they’ll switch to Adidas: The latter firm bought Chinese team podium rights.
Champion's Gold: Endorsements
U.S. Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, who earned six gold medals in the Athens games, is the highest-earning American Olympian with $5 million per year in endorsement deals.
The Beijing games should boost Phelps' marketability even further: Peter Carlisle of sports management firm Octagon tells Rovell that China's growth will "have a huge impact on Michael's marketing, given the amount of interest Chinese companies have to market their products and services globally."
As Phelps puts it: "If I swim fast in a Speedo, people want to swim fast in a Speedo...and if I spend money with a Visa [card], people want to spend money with a Visa [card]," said the super-athlete -- who endorsed Visa in a gala Chinese news conference.
This week, McDonald's named Phelps the global ambassador to its Champion Kids Program, which is sending up to 300 children to the 2008 Games.
Hundredths of a Second: Swimsuit Tech
Swimmer Amanda Weir won two silver medals in Athens. But she’s turning to specialty athletic gear maker Tyr and its streamlined bodysuit to help her get the gold in Beijing.
“My races come down to hundredths of a second, which is faster than you can blink,” she told CNBC’s Darren Rovell. “It’s the icing on the cake to get that advantage.”
Tyr’s advanced-technology swimsuit has a special structure that strategically compresses the blood within muscle tissue, maximizing the power return, Rovell reports. When it’s released to the market, it will fetch $300 to $400 “from competitive swimmers all across America,” he said.
Rovell adds there is a hoped-for quid pro quo: If Weir makes a major splash in Beijing, then Tyr may gain the higher brand profile of Warnaco Group's Speedo (worn by gold medalist Michael Phelps) and Nike (endorsed by swimmer Brandon Hanson).