As Utahns know, the Olympic Games themselves can overshadow many issues leading up to them. In Utah's case, the scandal surrounding the bid for the 2002 Games and many other, smaller concerns melted away as people from around the world came here interested only in competition, goodwill and their own national pride.
In China's case, Tibetan protests and jail sentences for people trying to voice their opposition to policies were swept aside, temporarily, by two weeks of positive media, unusually clear skies and exciting competition.
But as Utahns also know, life goes on after the games end. Here, people tried to preserve a legacy from the Olympics that included physical reminders. In China, it remains to be seen what the legacy will be.
The Games succeeded to a large degree because of the Chinese people, who were remarkable hosts to the outside world. Will the Chinese government build on that by continuing to open itself more economically, culturally and politically? Beijing overcame its poor reputation as a polluted city by forcing cutbacks in driving and temporarily shutting smokestack industries. Will it embrace anti-pollution measures, in spite of their costs, to keep the skies blue?
2008 is the 30th anniversary of China's slow and steady embrace of market reforms. In many ways, the Games demonstrated the success of that strategy. But the inability to allow protests also demonstrated a basic national insecurity. Will that change as the economy continues to feed off Olympic success?
Beijing left many lasting memories for fans worldwide. Swimmer Michael Phelps became the marquee name likely to last through the ages. His winning eight gold medals is a feat that perhaps will not be matched. Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt also created lasting impressions with his three gold medals and world records.
The Chinese likely will remember their own 100 medals, of which 51 were gold. These included performances in sports in which the Chinese previously had never done well. People everywhere also will remember the extraordinary opening and closing ceremonies, which were cutting edge displays of entertainment.
The Olympics were a major face-gaining achievement for China. But they did not erase the country's problems, and they are certain not to dull criticisms of its policies. As Utahns learned after 2002, however, the Games do lend a new confidence to an area. Perhaps China can use that confidence to boldly open itself more to the world.