Olympics: My Time in Beijing, Part I

Andrew Kaufman@akaufman23Senior Analyst IAugust 24, 2008

With Sunday night’s Closing Ceremony, an entertaining and eventful Olympic Games came to an end. My three-week hiatus from Bleacher Report, during which I spent two weeks in Beijing going to events, seeing the sights, and negotiating day and night at the Silk Market, has come to an end as well.

So, without further ado, some of my thoughts and impressions of Beijing ’08 from inside the city walls…

When I first arrived at Beijing International Airport, I was greeted by Olympic mascots Nini and Yingying (or, as we call them in America: “the green one” and “the orange one”). It was at that moment that I realized what I should have and known all along: Beijing was all about the Olympics.

Which probably isn’t all that abnormal. After all, when one city hosts a variety of competitions in 31 different sports over a two-week period, there is a slight bit of preparation that must take place. But, while this was the first Olympic Games I have ever attended in person, I can’t help but think Beijing was different.

It’s one thing for a city to be wholly and entirely focused on staging the Olympics. It’s another thing altogether for a city to alter its entire way of life, including in areas not necessarily related to the Olympics whatsoever. For example, as we were driving on one of Beijing’s ring roads, we noticed a sign that read, “Harmonious China, safe Olympics.”

Seems a bit extreme, no? Never mind the overt attempt at using the Olympics to pursue political aims—this is still a sports column. What is fascinating is that such a tactic would actually have a chance of working. Can the Olympics really bring people together like that? Are they that powerful of a force?

After spending two weeks in Beijing, I think they are. And it has little, if anything, to do with China. We saw it time in and time out over the past fortnight—millions, if not billions of people rooting for the same person or team. It goes beyond countries even: The whole world wanted Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt to break the records they did.

I didn’t have the experience of watching Phelps or Bolt (I did see Bolt once, in his 100-meter quarterfinal heat, but it’s not quite the same). But the five events I did see gave me a pretty good idea of what the Olympics are all about.

Over the next week or so, I intend to write three more articles about the five games I attended.

The first article will cover field hockey and women’s basketball, during which I was exposed to the host nation’s immense pride as well as the pride any nation experiences while seeing their team in action.

The second article will cover women’s soccer and baseball, the former as en example of a prime Olympic sport and the latter as an example of one that has fully lost its luster.

The final article will focus on my only trip to the Olympic green, during which I watched a full night of track and field heats and semifinals, as well as the shotput final. This piece will also serve as a wrap-up article, as the night of the track and field heats was also the night where I began to get a much clearly picture of what the Olympics are.  

I hope you stay tuned for the next week. I look forward to sharing my Olympic experience with all of you.