Sunday, August 24, 2008

Flame Out. Post-Olympics Thoughts


Flame Out..., originally uploaded by Points North.

The Olympics are over. Sigh. China did a fantastic job in its venues, its volunteers, its enthusiasm for the Games. Not so hot for letting athletes blog on their websites, allowing protesters to wave their placards, filling up the seats, ensuring all judged sports were fairly judged. But the dissenting voices, the protests, even if allowed in full view, would not have been much noticed while the Games were on, for the drama -- or lack of -- was all in the sport. The athletes and their performances, their stories were all consuming.

After several days of watching the events and the CBC's features, I had the feeling that China may not have realised the can of worms that hosting the Olympics may have opened. While they were thinking of the glory that Beijing 2008 will bring upon their country, they were also inadvertently opening it up wide to foreigners, not just to those who can afford to visit as in the past, but now to the billions who could watch it on their television sets. We could see what Beijing and the other host cities looked like, not as news cameras show us in brief bad-news stories, but through sustained good-news stories. Us Canadians also saw features through various eyes on vastly different parts and aspects of China. We saw how Chinese Olympians are grown; we saw some of Mongolian life; we saw how volunteers interacted with the visitors; we saw how some athletes were frustrated at not being given access to their own websites; we saw their transportation, the state of their streets, the magnificence of Beijing public space; we saw their homes and how their middle class lives in relative poverty to what we consider middle class; we caught a glimpse of how different their culture is from ours, and in starting to understand that difference, the barriers between us and them come down. And that openness cuts both ways. No matter how China manages it, with all those visitors, all those athletes, all those broadcasters near millions of Chinese, comes a desire in China's citizens to see more, learn more, and change. It's the global effect.

But back to the Games. One point three billion people allows for 500,000 volunteers; a totalitarian communist regime allows for recruitment of athletes and performers that most other countries cannot and will not do; a millennia-old culture that puts community and reverence above the individual allows for the sacrificing of individual Chinese for the Olympic glory of their country. These made the Olympic Games in Beijing spectacular, yet they were different for other reasons too.

These were the Games of the adult: We've gotten used to seeing nymphettes winning medals and nymphs competing in a way that says anyone over 21 is too old. Yet I believe the boomers are making their mark here on the Olympics for the first time. The boomer generation is the largest one in North America, and just as 1.3 billion Chinese can make their presence felt, so have and can the boomers.

To whit: Dara Torres 41 wins medals in swimming; Moroccan marathoner 36-year-old Jaouad Gharib wins a silver in an unusually fast Olympic marathon; Ian Millar, 61, after 9 tries, wins the team medal and is instrumental in that win, is not the score that got dropped; Sabine Spitz, the 36-year-old German, wins mountain biking. So many athletes in their 30s and even 40s, 50s, and 60s are competing for medals. Even sports that traditionally frown down on the over-21s are seeing older athletes, I mean, one of the medallists in the all-around in rhythmic gymnastics is 24 for heaven's sake, and the Spanish competitor is 28, that's like being a wizened, bent, old crone in a sport where the competitors behave like a bunch of bad-tempered teenagers. (Did you see the looks the silver and bronze medallists gave the Olympic Champion? Wouldn't want to be on the receiving end of those!) The boomers are not giving up the spotlight to the young 'uns and are disproving the old adage that age is the determinant of obsolescence.

These were the Games of technology: From opening to closing, technology played a key role. From a high-tech sports stadium that can scroll pictures around its rim, among other wonders; to more cameras than ever; to the way they can track the marathoners, road and mountain bike racers, so as to show you on a map where the leaders and chase groups are; to the stunning camera effects of slo mo - wow!! -- and Dartfish; to the smooth graphics on the water showing who's who in each lane; to that old standby, the photo finish, so needed in womens' hurdles where we won a bronze by 1/1000 second.

Technology continued its rising force through the way the Games were broadcast, using the Internet and online video streaming -- both live and OnDemand -- extensively and allowing for direct interaction between viewer, broadcaster, and athlete. But this was a mixed blessing, for the online forums became a depressing showcase of the petty bitterness of too many Canadians who look for reasons to tear down our athletes, their sports, and their accomplishments. For the first time, that low-self-esteem attitude -- that infects so many of our systems and many of our lives, not just Olympic athletes' -- was on open display to anyone who even skimmed the forums, not filtered through the media or appearing only in small groups over the water cooler. It was the ugly side of Canada. So I ignored it. Instead, I read the blogs, read the columns, and watched and watched CBC's huge coverage of the Games. CBC has redeemed itself from the disastrous showing of the winter Olympics (still wonder what the brass were thinking to have the hosts in Toronto, not over there) and set a high standard for CTV to reach for Vancouver 2010. I wonder, given how CTV treats the Junos and puts American shows ahead of Canadian accomplishments, it will do? Nothing less than all-out live coverage will satisfy Canadians now.

Jaques Rogge was right when he said, "These were truly exceptional Games." What a ride. What a ride.

2 comments:

CQ said...

The thing I noticed most was how leafy Beijing appeared.
Ignorantly(!) I actually expected to see something exceedingly more squalid - such as only a few barren trees left over from the pine beetles, choking smog, masses of small housing structures with people selling goods while crammed besides quickly built towering glass based hi-rises and a jumble of narrow streets owing to that city's long past.
Wow, Beijing looked impressive as the cameras followed along the travelogue sports like road cycling , mountain biking, and the marathon.

talk talk talk / Shireen said...

I have to admit, I didn't expect all the greenery either, or the big water features -- wasn't there one surrounding one building? It would be like surrounding Roy Thomson with water -- imagine how beautiful that would be! I was wowing too, feeling a bit jealous of a government that takes pride in creating beauty in its cities!

I was feeling sorry for Beijingers that the only time they could breathe clean air was during the Olympics. The factories are back on now, I'm sure, and the full complement of cars on the roads. Really shows you how much polluting cars and industries affect the air! Can you imagine that market if our governments supported our entrepreneurs' efforts at creating low-emission cars and homes?!