Sunday, August 24, 2008

2008 Summer Olympics Closing Ceremony/ Olympics Notebook

The 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics has come to an end, with the U.S. garnering the most medals and China the most golds. It has been an exciting run-- but sometimes overwhelming to take it all in. This year I DVR'd the NBC coverage (just the main network) as a "series" and somehow managed-- doing a lot of fast-forwarding-- to keep ahead of being 100% full on my DVR's memory.

The Closing Ceremony had the same pagentry and epic scale as the Opening. The Closing did have me wondering, however, if Zhang Yimou had recently watched Tron. The London presentation was a bit odd: the double decker bus sequence seemed a little "high school" and the musical teaming of 23-year-old Leona Lewis and 64-year-old Jimmy Page was not inspired. I liked NBC's "Performances of the Games" recaps during commercial breaks— only wish they had done more.

The NBC commentators offered an interesting fact about the mingling of the Olympians from different nations in the Closing Ceremony, which I'll cite from Wikipedia's entry of the 1956 Melbourne Olympics: "Inspired by Australian teenager John Wing, an Olympic tradition began when athletes of different nations are allowed to parade together at the closing ceremony, instead of with their national teams, as a symbol of world unity. [Wing wrote a letter to organizers, which said in part:] "During the Games there will be only one nation. War, politics and nationalities will be forgotten. What more could anybody want if the world could be made one nation."

A summary of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics:

The highlights: Li Ning's run, suspended by wires, along the length of the Bird's Nest across a moving electronic scroll to light the Olympic cauldron in the Opening Ceremony; Michael Phelps [nicknamed by the Chinese "Flying Fish"] wins eight gold medals (three wins are particularly spectacular: the 4 x 100 m freestyle relay in which teammate Jason Lezak was able to outrun the French by .08 seconds for the win, Phelps winning the 200 m butterfly despite the fact that his goggles filled with water, and his .01 margin win of the men's 100 m butterfly [with stills and slo-mos of the win shown ad nauseam]; Jason Lezak gets an individual medal— a bronze (in a tie) in the 100 m freestyle; the U.S.'s Natalie Coughlin becomes the first athlete to defend gold in the women's 100 m backstroke; U.S. gymnasts Nastia Liukin and Shawn Johnson [nicknamed by the Chinese "Minnie Mouse"] get one gold each and a bunch of other medals; the Chinese dominate the diving competitions (although they just miss a clean sweep); Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh win gold in beach volleyball and extend their international run of not losing a single set to 108 straight sets (watched all their games!); Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers win men's beach volleyball gold; women's 4 x 400 m relay's last leg when Sanya Richards came from behind to outdistance the Russians; U.S.A.'s Redeem team "redeems" in basketball but Spain gives them a run for the Olympic gold in a tight 118-107 victory; Jamaica's Usain Bolt's amazing world-recording breaking golds in track; Russian pole vaulter and media favorite Yelena Isinbayeva wins gold and breaks the world record again; Bryan Clay win's gold in the men's decathlon for the U.S.; Mary Lou Retton-inspired (!) discus gold medalist Stephanie Brown Trafton takes home first gold for the U.S. in her field since 1932; 38 year-old Constantina Dita-Tomescu's women's marathon gold-- she was out in front all by herself as she crossed the finish line; Andrei Aramnau of Belarus breaks three heavyweight records; Romanian Sandra Izbasa upsets in gymnastics winning the gold for floor exercise; introduction of BMX bike riding; retiring of softball and the placement of the U.S. team's shoes on the field; Australian Matthew Mitcham prevents China's clean sweep in diving (and garners the highest score for an individual dive in Olympic history); the Chinese take every possible medal in table tennis; in the last event shown on NBC before the Closing Ceremony, the U.S. defeats Brazil in the men's volleyball competition winning gold.

The disappointments/tragedies: Majorly Youtube'd accident occurs when Hungary's Janos Baranyai's arm is bend backward [his elbow was dislocated] in the weightlifting competition (apparently he will [eventually] recover fully, with no bones broken); the U.S. falters in track, particularly the men's and women's relay— both drop the baton in the semifinals and miss competing for medals; BMX rider Kyle Bennett dislocates his shoulder in a quarter final crash and eventually doesn't get the opportunity to compete for a medal; 41 year-old Dara Torres misses Olympic gold in the women's 50 m freestyle by .01 of a second; attractive Paraguayan javelin thrower Leryn Franco (spotted at the Opening Ceremony) doesn't make the cut for the medal competition; the U.S. loses to Japan for the softball competition gold; injured and hurting defending champion Liu Xiang of China makes an attempt to compete in the men 110 m hurdles, but is unable to continue (after a brief try following a false start); most tragically, it was revealed that top classical Chinese dancer Liu Yan was paralyzed from the waist down in an accident while rehearsing for the opening ceremonies.

The controversies: Chinese gymnasts are alleged to be younger than the 16 year-old minimum age; the timing of Russia's conflict into Georgia during the games; bad air quality in Beijing; the "buck tooth" young Chinese girl singer is replaced by a more pleasing looking girl in the opening ceremony; some fireworks in the Opening Ceremony were digitally added; Sweden's Ara Abrahamian leaves his bronze medal for wrestling on the mat after a dispute with officials; in another to-be-seen on You Tube video, Cuba's Ángel Matos kicks a ref in the face after being disqualified in the taekwondo event [a career-ender]; a photo of the Spanish men's basketball team shows the team making an offensive slit-eye gesture; President Bush pats Misty-May Treanor; sadly, American visitor Todd Bachman is killed in an assault at a tourist site.

The coverage: Despite TV Squad's complaint regarding NBC's "live" coverage, you can't knock the number of hours covered and ratings achieved by the 2008 summer Olympics; Bob Costas did two interesting interviews with ISO president Jaques Rogge and U.S. President George W. Bush; Bela Karolyi's enthusiastic commentary about the U.S. gymnastics team was great fun even when you didn't understand it all; Costas' et al.'s interviews with Olympic champions well done.

Next up: The 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, Canada.

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