Olympic Flame, You’re in Good Hands with Microsoft (We Hope)

6/20/08Follow @gthuang

As the Olympic torch wends its way towards Beijing for the start of the Summer Games, you’d be interested to know that it has ties to the local tech community. It turns out that 12 people from Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) were invited to be torchbearers. Among them are three guys that Bob and I know well. Harry Shum, a VP in Redmond in charge of Microsoft’s search business, will run with the torch this weekend in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa. HongJiang Zhang, managing director of Microsoft’s Advanced Technology Center in Beijing, will run next week in Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu province in central China. And Ya-Qin Zhang, VP and chairman of Microsoft’s China R&D Group, will be part of the final anchor relay in Beijing on August 8, the day of the opening ceremony.

No doubt these three were selected because of their long-standing ties to academic, business, and government officials in Beijing. From 1998 to 2003, they were instrumental in building Microsoft Research Asia into a powerhouse that does a lot of academic outreach in China. (You can read all about them in this famous book). The torch running speaks to Microsoft’s continuing relationship-building in China, and makes us wonder whether Google, Yahoo, and other big tech companies are also involved.

Shum is scheduled to run with the torch in Lhasa on Saturday around 10:00 a.m. local time. He will be torchbearer #78, and you might even see him if there is TV coverage tonight. The 6.8-mile relay will begin at the Dalai Lama’s former summer palace and end on a hilltop at the Potala Palace, the traditional seat of Tibetan rulers. The run schedule has shifted around recently, probably because of the devastation from the earthquake in neighboring Sichuan province and security concerns stemming from the Tibetan riots in March (and more recent Olympic torch demonstrations around the world).

All in all, it’s a tense time to be on the streets of Lhasa. Gearing up for the event, the Associated Press reports that there are police on virtually every corner and riot troops in the town center. When we get an update, we’ll let you know…

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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