The Beijing Olympics

August 13th, 2008

I have to hand it to NBC: they’ve figured out how to get me to watch the Olympics. Their Olympics site is excellent, and offers a massive amount of video and content to keep info hounds like myself interested. I’ve been watching feeds for sports I’ve never paid attention to before: fencing, judo, badmitton, diving, gymnastics – it’s quite an accomplishment: I normally avoid sports games unless there’s a social element to it.

What have I learned so far? Let’s see:

  • The athletes in judo and fencing appear insane. The fencers scream at every point, regardless if it’s theirs. And the judo athletes come onto the mat like bulls let out of a pen.
  • Gymnastics is surprisingly fascinating: these competitions are all about athleticism and the skill of the individual. It’s the Olympic ideal at its purest. However it’s all about USA vs. China – and at least with the team events, USA was beaten both times by China. In the men’s China clearly had the better team (also, based on the off-mat banter I’ve heard, all the guys on the American team give the impression of being dicks in real life); but in the women’s it came down to USA being beaten by a bunch of pre-pubescent Chinese girls. But I don’t know much about the situation, so my gut says the Chinese had the better team.
  • Diving isn’t a sport. I don’t care that it takes training to make the right maneuvers - it’s just not that competitive. Take the men’s synchronized diving that I watched. There was no difference between what the Chinese, Germans, and Americans did when they dived, yet the American guys didn’t win anything and the Chinese got the gold. I mean what’s the point? Make some turns and a small splash? I get swimming; maybe if diving also included some moves once in the water it would make more sense.
  • All the sailing events I watched were boring. I bet it’s much more fun to participate.
  • Badminton is much more interesting than the crappy sport I was forced to play in gym class.
  • The Americans in the audiences cheer much, much more than any other people. Even the Chinese. It’s a little embarrassing.

And then there’s the opening ceremony. It was so good, Roger Ebert even talked about it on his blog. Spectacular doesn’t even begin to describe the whole thing. With the masses of synchronized tai chi masters, the drummers, the massive LCD scroll - even the dramatic raising of the Chinese flag (I love how the one soldier threw the flag up in the air – so dramatic!). I was thinking – along with a lot of other people, it appears – that the Beijing Olympics is a lot like the expositions in Chicago and St. Louis at the turn of the 20th Century. This is China’s chance to show that they’re ready to ascend to the world stage. It will take a lot of work (and a lot of suffering, I’m guessing) for China to match the US as a world power (or rather the post-war US world power).

Back to the opening ceremony. I watched it because I figured that if it cost $300 to produce, it’s going to be entertaining whether it worked or not – and boy what a show! People seem to be getting worked up lately that the 29 foot steps made of fireworks (brilliant!) that was on the video feed was from an earlier recording, or that the flying girl was lip-syncing – but if you think of them as editing tricks (like having someone else sing Natalie Wood’s scenes in West Side Story), it much more forgivable. But there are better ways of having a prettier girl lip-synch to a plainer girl’s more beautiful voice than hiding the latter and making the former a star.

It needs to be mentioned that NBC almost ruined their broadcast of the ceremony with those goddamn talking heads talking over everything. Sure, I want to know all that trivia, but couldn’t you put it in text at the bottom of the screen instead of forcing us to endure all of that chatter? It’s just as bad as someone talking on their cell phone at a movie theater. </rant>.

Although the Olympics aren’t over yet, the Chinese should be proud of this moment on the world stage. They just have to live up to the spectacle from now on.

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