Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

An Olympic Achievement...

...and an even more olympically cliche title...

Yes, I was worried. I think a lot of people were. I still remember the debacle of the 2004 Asia Cup soccer tournament, when the final match was played between Japan and China in Beijing. The entire game was a loud cacophony of boos and jeers from the Chinese fans, who then went rabid, rioted, rampaged through Beijing despite an army of riot police, and attacked the cars, buses, and/or hotels of Japanese players, fans, coaches, and at least one Japanese diplomat when Japan won the game. (They say no one was reported injured, which seems unlikely considering the scale and level of violence.) I was not alone in my concern that any athlete from any country might be in serious danger if s/he won out over a Chinese favorite. There was also no small worry about radical islamists from Yunnan Province, who had already started setting off bombs around the country and issuing threats to attack the Olympics. (A video they issued just before the Opening Ceremony, an image of the "Bird's Nest" stadium superimposed with an explosion, was a chilling reminder that all was not well in the Middle Kingdom.) And then of course there was that Tibet thing. The situation in Tibet is complicated enough, but then there are all those half-cocked, would-be activists from around the world, many if not most of whom probably know very little about the real situation but are still prepared to get as much publicity as they can (mainly for themselves, I'd wager) by any means. Yes, it was getting to be a complicated Olympics long before the Opening Ceremony kicked off.

I really have to congratulate China on a job (mostly) well done.

Yes, I know all the stories about the various disasters and gaffes involving said Opening Ceremony, such as the media film of the fireworks display that was really CG animation, the little girl singer who was replaced at the last minute by a lip-syncing stand-in because a Communist Party official didn't think the singer herself was "cute enough", and the culturally important traditional dancer whose platform collapsed during rehearsal leaving her a paraplegic for life. I've also been hearing the steady stream of "uh-ohs" that are still coming out of the Olympics as a whole, such as the issue with the age of certain woman gymnasts, the Chinese skeet shooter who was awarded points for shots he obviously missed, the U.S. National Anthem suddenly coming to a dead halt during one of Michael Phelps' many medal ceremonies, or the fact that the recordings of the national anthems used at the medal ceremonies were found out to be pirated copies of the 2004 Athens Olympics recordings! And then of course there is that whole issue of journalists finding out the hard way just how much the Chinese government respects freedom of the press. Indeed, there have been some pretty profound "hole in foot which is also in mouth" stories coming out of this Olympics, I'm sure many of which will be circulating for years.

Even so, you can't deny that the Chinese really did a fantastic job overall. The venues were excellent. The Chinese fans showed both respect and good sportsmanship even despite Beijing's reputation as being one of the rudest cities in the world. The staff kept things going smoothly. Most importantly, the Games were kept secure and free of any trouble from unruly fans, terrorists, or crazed activists. (Yes, there were a few individuals who managed to steal some very interesting few seconds of fame, but nothing like what I'd feared.) The Chinese clearly hoped to use the Beijing Olympics as an opportunity to prove that China is no longer a disgruntled Third World country or an irrationally idealistic pariah state, but a modern and capable power player in the international arena. In this they clearly won a gold medal.

Now that I've captured your attention (cue diabolical grin), I'd like to give some of my own comments and observations about the 2008 Beijing Olympics:

  • In the case of Japan in particular it was definitely like something out of Tales of the Unexpected. We saw several iconic superstars land on their butts, sometimes quite literally. Many if not most of the top names in judo came away with bronze medals if anything at all. Table tennis darling Ai Fukuhara, who actually plays in China and has a following there, didn't get anything. I won't even talk about the baseball team. (Actually, yes I will, but later.) On the other hand, we saw some medals won in some events for the first time ever. There was Yuki Ota's amazing silver medal in fencing. There was also that spectacular gold medal won in softball against the U.S., who had been undefeated till then. I actually prefer an unpredictable Olympics to a predictable one, and I always love it when an underdog wins, so there was a lot here to make me happy.
  • I always face a dilemma whenever an event is Japan vs. U.S.A. because I feel guilty no matter who I root for. It seemed like there were a lot of such events, too. C'est la vie.
  • You know...I really wish Japan would learn a bit of sportsmanship! I'm not just talking about the athletes, either. Whenever someone who was believed to have even a remote possibility of winning a medal came away empty-handed, we first had to deal with the inevitable post-event sobbing in front of the camera. (*sniff* "I really did {sob} try my best!" *sniff* "I just {sob} couldn't get it this {sob} time! *sniff, slobber* "I'm SO {sob} SORRY!!!") Then every major news program would have its sympathy/soul-searching segments with a gloomy-sounding narrator and lots of sad violins playing in the background. And if the loser happened to be one of those iconic superstars, we'd be forced to sit through these epic waaaaah sessions over and over and over again...especially if the superstar in question announced gloomily that s/he was throwing in the towel, as happened with some of them. I mean...look, people...IN SPORTS, SOMETIMES PEOPLE WIN, AND SOMETIMES PEOPLE LOSE! THAT'S PART OF COMPETITION, AND IT'S ALSO PART OF LIFE!!!! We've been having enough problems here with this recent rash of disgruntled individuals freaking out and killing people at random because they never learned to deal with disappointment in their childhood. Maybe certain athletes could try being good role models instead of helping contribute to the problem!
  • Speaking of poor sportsmanship, I really have to feel sorry for Sweden's Olympic athletes. People tend to remember bad things far longer than good things, and I have a feeling wrestler Ara Abrahamian's ringside temper tantrum followed by his dumping his bronze medal on the floor during the awards ceremony is going to haunt them for a long time. He claims he is a victim of politics and told Japanese interviewers that "international wrestling is rotten". However, he apparently put on a similar though less flamboyant display of waaaaah-ness after winning a silver medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics, claiming he tied the Russian winner but was declared the loser for political reasons. (He said he was going to retire after that, but then he came to Beijing anyway. Does that mean we are going to see more of him?)
  • How about that Michael Phelps? Eight gold medals and how many records? The man is incredible. I'm also really impressed with Japan's Kosuke Kitajima. Sure, he only won two gold medals in swimming and only set one new world record, but it's still a remarkable achievement. Besides, he doesn't have the news media going all ape-shyte over whether or not he's getting wet with a woman swimmer...who says "Ewww" when asked if she kissed him. (Do I even give a f*** about that? Our survey says BAAAAAAAH!) Face it: American news is dead...
  • How about that Jamaican runner, Usain Bolt? It's interesting enough to see a gold-medal runner who isn't American, Canadian, or from any African country. And I mean...Jamaica? The island that is famous for reggae, Bob Marley, coffee, rum, riots, and a certain plant with clusters of pointy leaves? Hey, frankly, I'm glad to see it!
  • Japan's badminton team came so close to pulling off a coup, but just as they found their groove they suddenly lost it again and lost their match against South Korea, ending up 4th. That was perhaps the most entertaining anticlimax of this Olympics, but it was a good fight.
  • Japan's Olympic baseball team started its life with a practice game against a team of selected pro-league players. The Olympic team got stomped 11-3. No medal this time? Meh. I was surprised they did as well as they did. Then again, Japan's softball team wasn't heralded at all, and look what they did!
  • One of my fondest moments of this Olympics was watching a Tunisian swimmer take a gold medal in one of the events. Not only did it make me happy to see someone other than the usual suspects win a swimming medal, but the look on his face during the medal ceremony said it all. Good, honest pride was written all over him as his national anthem was being played. It was a look you don't seem to see much in Olympics anymore. So many winners just seem smug and/or arrogant...if they show any emotion at all. This man was happy both for himself and his country, proud of the fact that he was on that stand with his country's flag rising to the highest position. Not a famous hero, not from a powerful nation, but now he's on top of the world. Things like that are what the Olympics are supposed to be all about.
  • Perhaps my fondest schadenfreude moment of this Olympics came during that women's bicycle race when a diabolically-minded South Korean cyclist intentionally zipped through the pack and cut off a whole row of cyclists, triggering a pileup. No doubt she thought that it was a sneaky but effective way to get her competitors out of her hair and out of her way...but in the process she bumped one of the cyclists she cut off, lost control, wound up in the ditch, twisted her ankle, and had to drop out. As the Japanese say: Zamaa-miro! (Serves you right!)
  • How about that closing ceremony? I didn't see the opening ceremony, so I can't compare, but I was truly impressed with that human pagoda! I realize that Olympic opening/closing ceremonies have been trying to outdo each other in terms of modern, artsy weirdness for at least the past two decades, but I found this one very tastefully done. The British contribution seemed a bit weak by comparison, but I was happy to see Jimmy Page there sharing a whole lotta love with Leona Lewis! Beckham's appearance induced rolled eyes, but at least the soccer ball he kicked landed among the Japanese athletes and was snatched up by one of the swimmers!
I tried to post a YouTube video of the Page/Lewis performance, but, ironically, they seem to be getting pulled off with amazing speed. I give you this instead...a collection of snapshots with the original "Whole Lotta Love" playing. Enjoy!


  • The Chinese did a great job with this Olympics (qualified by the dings you marked above).

    The American NBC coverage was atrocious as always. Bob Costas really needs to just go away.

    As much as they showed they are an international player, the government also showed they couldn't hide their pettiness and authoritarianism even with all eyes on them. I refer specifically to denying an American visa to an athlete who had publicly spoken about Darfur and the iTunes temper tantrum over the "Songs for Tibet" album (which has a Rush song by the way). China overreacts to anything Tibet related, so the activists are just going for the easy target in my opinion.

    Of course, my own government is trying the same attitude on and liking it a bit too much, so it is hard to criticize China from any perch of superiority. We might be looking at our own future. Free speech zones indeed.

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 2:35 AM  

  • Don, By free speech zones you must be referring to the protester area at the DNC Convention.

    I didn't watch the olympics, not that I have anything against sports or China, I just didn't want to be burderned with all the contreversy that the olympics seems to be.

    By Anonymous Dave, at 7:34 AM  

  • Moody, you DO know that the Jamaicans
    train in the US?....

    Anyhoo, I like it when other folks win...I didn't see much, but really liked the women's single rowing competition (single sculls I think they call it) - the Belorussian gal was beating everyone right and left...seemed destined for a gold.

    Instead she ended up looking like a very angry poor sport w/a bronze..a smiling and satisfied looking- American gal w/a silver (-the Belorussian had beat her twice before in the preliminaries) and a crying VERY HAPPY lady with a surprise gold from Bulgaria!

    I saw both the opening and closing...liked the opening better. Both were great overall

    The British show wasn't well thought didn't go with the rest of the show...but I'm interested to find out what they'll be doing once they have time to plan!

    By Blogger ladybug, at 10:07 AM  

  • I really want to watch the Olympic opening ceremony but then couldn't find any channels that broadcast it though I do have cable tv. I also want to watch the swimming and gymnastic, try to look in ESPN and other sports channels, but zero :(

    By Blogger Selba, at 10:11 AM  

  • Snabudon
    Oh, yeah...and there were also all those migrant workers brought in from poor parts of the country to help give Beijing a facelift...and then quickly forced to leave (without being paid yet) when construction wasn't finished in time for the Olympics. I watched a thing about that on TV this morning; it turns out there were an awful lot of facades masquerading as buildings along the main promenades and the marathon route. Officials say construction will be finished eventually, but...

    There were also people who had come from remote parts of the country to report on local government "irregularities" only to find the complaint office closed and staffed with policemen who promptly ordered them to leave or face arrest.

    Basically, China went all out for appearances. It's hard to blame them very much for that, though, because they were basically following ancient Chinese tradition, i.e. image is everything. (Japan, with its "form over function" tradition, isn't much different.)

    America's future? I don't want to think about it!

    Either that or he's talking about the protest zones set up at every Republican Party Convention during the LAST election...all of them surrounded with razor-wire-topped fences and placed well out of sight and sound of the convention.

    I think the Dems are just following the Reps' example...which is a scary thing.

    A lot of athletes from all over the world train in the U.S. including some from Japan, so that doesn't surprise me.

    I didn't see that sculling event, but it sounds like I would've enjoyed it.

    I agree; the British part of the show wasn't well thought out at all. I did like the bus pulling up to a bus stop behind which there was a nicely stereotypical queue of umbrella-wielding people, but they kind of dropped the ball. Maybe they should have done something along a more China-to-Britain line...such as an Opium War theme or something...

    (Now I'm really going to hell!)

    You can always wait and get the DVD. Ironically, however, the Chinese government seems to be pursuing a very strict anti-piracy policy (which seems like Colombia hosting an anti-cocaine rally or Al Qaeda promoting world peace).

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 2:59 PM  

  • Both the opening and closing ceremonies were awesome but I enjoyed the opening ceremony more.

    Malaysia scored a first in this Olympics with a silver medal (only medal) in the singles badminton by second-seeded, Lee Chong Wei. He lost to top seed, China's Lin Dan.

    I managed to catch Usain Bolt winning his gold medals. Awesome runner.

    By Blogger Happysurfer, at 4:52 PM  

  • Happysurfer
    All I've seen of the opening ceremony is the fault-finding. Kind of a shame really, as it spoiled the party for me before I got to go to it.

    Congratulations on the silver medal for Malaysia! I think there were a number of first medals at this Olympics. Another good example was the Mongolian judo competitor who dumped one of Japan's superstars and then went on to win Mongolia's first-ever gold medal in anything. I hate to say it, but I was happy for him. (There was an awful lot of moaning, sad violins, and soul-searching on Japanese TV after that...and then the superstar whined that he had "lost (his) motivation" and quit. Oh, waah...)

    I appreciated the fact that Bolt was always very conscious of his audience.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 9:17 PM  

  • Of course mostly had US coverage, So we didn't get to see much of Japan unless they were competing against Americans... much to the shugrin of my MIL and wife.

    How about that cuban taekwondo guy that kicked an official in the face! Now that has got to be the most memorable moment of the games.

    The wife says the open was spectacular we missed the end.

    By Blogger Swinebread, at 1:34 PM  

  • I saw a story about the Jamaican sports tradition. I imagine it originates in the British colonial educational system, because in Britain children grow up competing in Sports Day once a year.

    Anyway, the news stories talked about the school sports that Jamaican kids love to compete in, and how running is an offshoot of that.

    By Blogger Olivia, at 9:20 AM  

  • Awesome,
    I'd love to hear Leona Lewis singing it
    a woman's voice must definitely add a whole new dimension to that track

    By Blogger QUASAR9, at 6:23 PM  

  • Swinebread
    They had an interesting show on TV here that was "Olympic outtakes", i.e. fun moments, ouches, oopsies, and otherwise fktp. They showed the Cuban kicking the judge. They also showed some of the other things I mentioned, such as the evil Korean cyclist who wound up victim of her own foul play and the Swedish wrestler who threw the temper tantrum. I also had a good laugh about that Dutch table tennis player who wound up crashing through the wall of the referees' box. Things like that are always fun to watch.

    Those amazing Brits, eh, m'lady? I'm glad kids still enjoy participating in sports in some countries!

    Long time no see! It was an interesting version of the song which lived up to the hype...though it was one of few high points in the British segment of the show. Man...Jimmy Page is finally showing his age, but he can still rock!

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 12:51 PM  

  • what an incredible post! you brought tears to my eyes!!! i so agree w/ you.. i love to see the underdog win. there's just something about seeing them so happy, so full of pride for their country and to win against the ones that usually win... it's such a tremendous accomplishment.

    you hooked me at the beginning. so many things that i didn't even know. most interesting. so... where the fireworks really animated? or real? and someone got seriously injured? things you never hear about... or at least we didn't. funny how they never mentioned anything about the stabbing that happened and how one or two ppl were killed from that. did you hear about that?

    i really love this post. you have such a spectacular way of writing.

    i agree about the ending of the closing... wasn't that impressed w/ Britain.

    By Blogger Um Naief, at 9:14 PM  

  • oh yeah... did the little girl who was supposed to sing get outted by a girl that was cuter? i know she was lip-syncing... you could tell... but what a terrible thing to do to the first girl!

    By Blogger Um Naief, at 9:16 PM  

  • That's like the movie "It's Always Fair Weather" with Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds where she lip synchs for the prettier actress who can't sing.

    By Blogger Olivia, at 12:51 PM  

  • Just managed to watch the opening and closing ceremony of olympic 2008 last night...

    It's just amazing spectacular!!!

    If you have a chance, try to get and watch the opening ceremony... here in Indonesia, we can buy the CD on the street.

    By Blogger Selba, at 5:36 PM  

  • oops.. not the CD, I meant the pirated VCD, hehehe...

    By Blogger Selba, at 5:36 PM  

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