Bejing's Behemoth Bash
It was two weeks of madness, that's what it was.
Yes, China's Olympics succeeded in many ways: Taking the eye of easily dazzled media types off of labour camps and reeducation institutions, clearing away the smog for a fortnight, and giving party officials something to do in between plotting the downfall of democracy activists, home church types, and other dissidents, I mean "reactionaries."
Yet there was so much more. The following are misty, watercoloured memories I shall take with me of the Twenty-ninth (or XXIX for you cosmopolitan types) Olympiad ...mixed in with the usual cynical observations.
- The Opening Ceremonies, hosted by Bob Costas and Conan O'Brien (who sounded suspiciously like Matt Lauer). My favourite parts were the entrance of the national teams, the spectacular lighting of the torch, and the musical tribute to the Great Leap Forward. I can only hope they used fake blood.
- Speaking* of the estimable Bob Costas, I thought it was adorable the way Shawn Johnson knelt down to get to eye level with him during their interview.
- Speaking of gymnastics, you know Nastia Liukin has to be a tough kid. Growing up in the States with a name that's pronounced "Nasty-a" meant that she probably had to tough out a few fight in the gym, bash a few heads against the balance beam, that sort of thing.
- If Bela Karolyi took amphetamines his head would explode. Just noticing.
- Usain Bolt was the obvious star of the athletics venue. I just wish announcers would stop with the wordplay on his name. Enough with the "Usain" jokes already.
- I would have liked to have had telepathy during the men's 100 metres final. It would have been interesting to hear the other seven runners think "Oh, crap!" in their various languages and dialects.
- I was as shocked as any to hear that the little girl who sang the big opening ceremonies song was not the one onscreen. They are simply setting that poor little actress who was in the ceremonies as the Chinese Milli Vanilli. It will all come to tears, I tell you.
- I don't know about you, but I felt that NBC could have shown a bit more women's beach volleyball.
- Speaking of women's beach volleyball, whilst I must confess that the bikini uniforms were compelling, they really don't make much sense. I mean, you can't argue that they're for flexibility, when the blokes are wearing baggy shorts. I shan't complain much though. The men's beach volleyball uniforms were much preferable to the men divers, who wore speedos that appeared to be made out of their own skin. We were way past the old joke about being able to tell one's religion with these suits. Doctors watching the event were able to estimate sperm counts. Suffice to say, I watched little of that competition. Now, women's diving...
- Michael Phelps is now the most famous swimmer on the planet ahead of Mark Spitz and Esther Williams. He has enough gold medals to wear one each day for a fortnight without having to polish them.
- Phelps' races were quite exciting events. The finish in which he outtouched the French swimmer to the wall was particularly incredible. I was astounded that Morgan Freeman was able to record one of his Visa commercials from in the pool as Phelps swam past. Amazing chap that Freeman...treads water beautifully.
- The Archery competition was thrilling. Or so I heard. I think it was on the Oxygen Channel at 3 a.m. EDT, right after badmitton and (field) hockey. It's a guess really, based on being wakened by a loud neighbor who shouted, "Bullseye!" in the middle of the night. I assumed it was Olympics-related.
- Was it just me or had Jim Lampley been replaced by one of the automatronics from Disneyland Japan? His eyes seemed glazed over and everytime he moved his head I thought I heard a whirring sound.
- Gymnastics once more: Can we all agree that the demonstration gymnastics night, like its inbred cousin the demonstration figure skating night are just cheap ploys to get another night of those sports into prime-time in the US? If it's not competitive, it shouldn't be on the air, no matter how many people are passing up Idol to watch spunky teenaged girls (and pre-schoolers, if you count the Chinese team) do dangerous twisting double back-flip sowcow thingys. I'd rather sit through five hours of equestrian team dressage than an extra night of non-competitive tumbling runs to the theme from The Notebook.
- Wasn't that sweet when Rodan tried to lay an egg in the Olympic "Bird's Nest" Stadium? Not the best time for the javelin competition, I suppose.
- Table tennis or ping-pong is practically the national sport of China, if you leave out unicycle motocross. The sport is fast paced and dramatic and, well, a bit silly at times. It's wonderful athleticism of course, but occasionally I feel as though the local rec centre put up a few large stands of seating and invited the area exchange students to come over for a few rounds. Still, where else can you find action like this at the Olympics.**
- Team handball is also an extraordinary sport. It's a bit like a cross between football (soccer), basketball, and water polo, only where the players aren't occasionally fished out by lifeguards. The sport requires players to run with the ball, dribbling it every few steps. That part is a bit like watching people who can't quite get the hang of dribbling in basketball. Then, suddenly they dash at the goal, leap into the air and fling the ball at a tiny, surprised goalkeeper. Given that the goalmouth is fairly large and the ball relatively small, much of the entertainment from team handball comes from watching the keeper desperately flail at the balls. A bit like catching flies with tweezers whilst tripping over a stone.
- The best thing about the Olympics is that it's not a political convention... or is that just too obvious?
- Tennis is just about the most pointless thing at an Olympics. The players are the same players on the usual world tour. They just play a tournament at the games and get gold medals instead of massive cheques. All that's missing is someone harranguing the line judge. That would get you five years in a regional work detail in this China. Not exactly the best way to warm up for the US Open, or the next five Wimbeldons.
- The closing ceremonies were a lot like the opening ceremonies, only psychologically longer. Still, Jimmy Page playing a Zepplin tune in downtwon Beijing? Can't be bad. I'm betting he woke several comissars and at least one sports anchor.
- Bob Costas finished the NBC broadcast with a large picture of Mao Tse Tung over his shoulder. He stared straight-ahead into the camera as though he were afraid that Mao might jump him, if he glanced around. It was kind of like every Friday the 13th film, only Mao wasn't wearing a hockey mask.
- London have the Games in 2012. I can't wait to see the gigantic Marmite float in the opening ceremony! I hope Captain Beano's included, too!
**This explains how Keanu Reeves came away with the table tennis gold at Bejing.