Olympic Sport: Blocking the Internet

China clamping down on journalists' Web access to control image during Games.

Aug. 3, 2008— -- Some of their secrets are already out, and Beijing authorities are not happy about it.

Images of closed rehearsals for the opening ceremonies of the Summer Olympics, set to begin in the Chinese capital on Friday, were broadcast on South Korean television this week and quickly found their way online.

The footage shows a grand spectacle involving simulated waterfalls, giant virtual whales, synchronized dancers twirling ribbons, and lightshows – all part of a dramatic countdown the public was not supposed to see, at least, not yet.

"This is the first shot across the bow for the Chinese, who are going to try very, very hard to control the images that are coming out [of] the Olympics," said Jamie Meltz, executive vice-president of the Asia Society.

"It's very clear that the Chinese government is not going to be able to control all of the images coming out," Meltz added.

But that certainly won't stop them from trying.

After initially pledging open Internet access for journalists, Beijing authorities now say the more than 20,000 reporters covering the Games will not be free to move about online.

Web sites covering Tibet, where there were massive anti-government protests in March, as well as sites on China's connection to the conflict-ridden region of Darfur and the banned spiritual movement Falun Gong, will all be restricted, the government has said.

China already controls what its 1.3 billion citizens can find online, through tough constraints known as the "Great Firewall of China."

"It sends the worst possible signal," said Minky Worden of Human Rights Watch. "Can you imagine if during the Athens Games [in 2004] or the Sydney Games [in 2000], the Australian government or the Greek government had said at the last minute, actually there won't be Internet access for journalists? No one would have put up with it."

This isn't the first time China has been compelled into Olympics image-control.

Earlier this year, reports surfaced about Chinese citizens forced out of their homes to make way for Beijing's Olympic construction projects.

Such evictions – memorable images of which showed crying men and women standing next to piles of rubble that used to be their houses – have affected more than 1 million Chinese people, human rights groups say.

Then there's the pollution.

Despite dramatic attempts to reduce it – shutting down factories and curbing traffic to clear the skies – the smog still hovers.

And in the water, there were the algae.

Last month, Chinese authorities mobilized an estimated 10,000 city workers and volunteers to help clear up a sea of green in the waters off Qingdao, the site of the Olympic sailing regatta this month.

The American sailing team told ABC News in Beijing that they've trained specifically for racing through the bright-colored algae bloom.

"We actually developed techniques for racing," said Debbie Capozzi, a member of the U.S. sailing team. "To get it off the bottom of the boat. […] It dramatically slows you down."

For now, the algae are gone, and so is the thick, gray smog.

This weekend the skies over Beijing were a rare blue, a sight scientists say was due in part to heavy rainfall and strong winds last week.

But forecasters say the clear skies won't last. Like countless images – those that have come and perhaps those yet to emerge from the Olympic Games – they're out of China's control.