Blue skies smiled over Beijing for the fourth day in a row and excitement filled its air Sunday as Premier Wen Jiabao promised a clean, green and beautiful city during and after the Olympic Games.
A day earlier, International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge cleared another "layer of haze" by praising the Beijing Games organizers for their work and labeling the Olympic Village the "best ever".
Premier Wen visited athletes and met with volunteers and utility workers five days before the Games. Thanks to the efforts of the entire society, the Beijing Olympics will satisfy the athletes, officials and the spectators at home and abroad, he said.
"China is a responsible country. We will fulfill the promises we made for the Olympics. We will not only host a quality and unique Games, but also build a more scenic, greener and more civilized city in a sustainable manner."
Wen and senior officials of the Beijing Olympic organizing committee (BOCOG), Liu Qi, Liu Yandong and Guo Jinlong, visited the Beijing Olympic Basketball Gymnasium, where the Chinese men's team was training.
Wen shook hands with the players and coaches, including NBA star Yao Ming, who has recovered fully from his left foot injury. "Are you feeling well? Is your foot okay?" Wen said. Yao replied that he was fine.
"I loved playing basketball when I was a kid," the premier said. "It's still my favorite game." And then he joined the players to shoot hoops.
The Chinese hoopsters will take on the mighty Americans in their first game on Aug 10. "Your first game will attract great attention," Wen said. "You need confidence and win or lose, it's important to have the sporting spirit."
Wen signed the basketball with which he went for the hoops, and the team presented him with one signed by all the players. The premier encouraged the volunteers at the stadium to serve "in a careful and serious manner with a strong sense of responsibility".
With the sun shining brightly and the premier going about town visiting Olympic venues, officials dismissed fears over rescheduling endurance events because the level of pollution has gone down drastically.
Though the average air pollution index rose to 35 yesterday from Saturday's 34, it was still "excellent". The Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP) has said a pollution reading below 50 is "excellent", from 51 to 100 is "fairly good".
From the data gathered over the past few days, "I believe the chance of rescheduling any event because of air quality is very low," Fan Yuansheng, director of MEP's pollution control, said.
"Excellent" air quality has been recorded on all the three days of this month. And overall, Beijing has had 152 "blue skies" or days with fairly good air quality.
Fan attributed the improvement in air quality to the emission control measures. "If environmental departments foresee serious air pollution during the Olympics, Beijing and neighboring areas will close more factories temporarily and pull more cars off the roads," he said.
Government vehicles have been told to stay off the roads one day a week in the latest clean air initiative.
On the Games organizational front, Jacques Rogge credited Beijing for its work and providing the best possible facilities for athletes and officials. "It's a totally different ball game (from the Athens Games)," he said on Saturday, reminding journalists that media headlines a week before the 2004 Olympics were on the delay in the completion of venues and the lack of organization.
"Today we have absolutely no concerns for the organization," he told journalists at the Main Press Center as fireworks of the Games' opening ceremony rehearsals lighted up the sky around the National Stadium.
"I am sure that on the 9th of August, the day after the Opening Ceremony, the magic of the Games and the flawless organization will take over," the IOC president said, addressing his first conference in Beijing in the run-up to the Games.
He talked on many subjects, from media freedom, doping, the lifting of the ban on Iraqi athletes, and China's rise in sports and athlete's freedom of expression.
Praising the Olympic Village, he said: "I have had the privilege of staying in Olympic villages since the 1968 Mexico Games, and I have never seen a village like this. It is outstanding."