E. Neville Isdell, chairman of the Coca Cola Company, who served as a torchbearer on the final leg of the relay on Friday, is excited as anyone about the Beijing Olympics and what it means for China.
"I think this is genuinely the coming out parade for China it is going to change positively the perception of China and change China in terms of its engagement with the world," he told China Daily in an exclusive interview after his run.
The party "is a wonderful flower that just opens up in these 17 days of the Games", he said, adding that Coca-Cola, one of the torch relay's three Presenting Partners and a TOP sponsor of the Games, is "absolutely thrilled to be involved".
"We are as proud as we've been since 1928, sponsoring every Olympics - and this is going to be a very successful one," he said.
Coca-Cola, the world's biggest soft drinks manufacturer, arrived in China in 1928, the same year it first became an Olympic sponsor.
The company has high hopes for the huge Chinese market, Isdell said.
"We could easily quadruple our business here," he said.
China is the company's fourth largest market by volume, but Isdell believes it will one day be the largest.
"But even when China becomes the No 1 market, it won't be the highest per capita. There are always mountains to climb," he said.
"This is the biggest single challenge the people of the Coca-Cola Company have ever faced - how to maximize this wonderful opportunity in China."
For Isdell, the Beijing Games responds to that challenge, as it "raises the bar (and) creates a new platform", he said.
"We're seeing this as a launching pad for us to take our business to the next level."
China's Olympic legacy will take generations to unfold, he said.
"For the young kids, watching the Olympics here will be a part of their lives, and part of their belief system for the rest of their lives.
"China will never forget this. It's not just one little moment in August 2008," he said.
Idsell said he was delighted to be a torchbearer.
"To hold the torch when it is lit sends shivers down your spine it's just so special, because it symbolizes what the Olympics is all about," he said.
"And to hold it here in Beijing on the opening day of what's going to be the most spectacular Olympics ever - I know it is, because I've been involved in the planning - is one of the most special moments in my life."
Source: China Daily