Beijing, China: August 9, 2008 – Really a great hit, Beijing has won the hearts of the world, a great Olympiad in Beijing, perhaps never thought before, the most expensive, the 29th Olympiad in Beijing, which opened with 2,008 drummers pounding in unison to the brilliant flashing of thousands of colored lights, fireworks, dancing and acrobatics, ended with the most spectacular airborne lighting of the cauldron just inside the roof of China’s National Stadium, known as the Bird’s Nest.
Amid Friday night’s spectacle, athletes from 205 nations marched in and celebrated what is being touted as China’s emergence as a cultural, political and economic power.
“For a long time, China has dreamed of opening its doors and inviting the world’s athletes to Beijing for the Olympic Games,” said Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee. “Tonight that dream comes true.”
The show, put on in weather fit for a health club steam room, was full of flash and pizzazz, with the usual pomp and circumstance thrown into the mix. In what may be a sign that the gods really are lined up in China’s favor, there was no rain.
The United States, with Kobe Bryant and his basketball teammates strutting along in the back of the pack, was by far the largest contingent, marching into the stadium wearing navy blue blazers, white pants and white caps. The athletes were greeted with loud cheers and applause by the Chinese.
The Chinese also gave rousing ovations to the athletes from Pakistan, Russia, Cuba, Iraq and – as if anyone has ever disliked them – Canada.
The ovations were nothing compared with those for Chinese Taipei and Hong Kong, but all greetings paled in comparison to the uproar when the Chinese team entered.
“Jaiyou, jaiyou,” the crowd chanted as the whole stadium pulsated with waving red flags. The word, pronounced “jie yo,” literally means gas or fuel, but in China it is the equivalent of “go, go.”
The drama, which lasted four hours and 10 minutes, concluded with the lighting of the Olympic cauldron by the famous Chinese gymnast Li Ning, who was lifted into the air some 300 feet to the top of the stadium by an invisible wire. From there, he ran around the lip of the stadium, finally lighting a fuse that sent fire snaking up the giant cauldron, which erupted in flame.
The Olympic slogan, “One World, One Dream,” represents, in essence, an extended hand from this 5,000-year-old nation of 1.3 billion people to the rest of the world.
But that hand has been slapped in the run-up to the Games. Protests around the world and disruptions of the Olympic torch run as a result of China’s handling of Tibetan protests for autonomy embarrassed the Chinese government. China’s cozy relationship with the purveyors of genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan has also been a sore subject.
Relations with the West have been strained as problems of access and press freedom have persisted despite promises by the Chinese government to allow journalists anywhere they want to go.
Most experts believe, nevertheless, that Western, especially American, money and influence will move China away from the kind of authoritarian activities that have created so much controversy. These Olympics are an opportunity to see what kind of progress has been made.
The traditional parade of nations was the first test, and it went off without a hitch or protest. Papua New Guinea’s athletes may have had the most dazzling costumes, wearing red and gold with black skirts for both men and women. Some fashion statements didn’t work, like Israel’s striped shirt getup or the lime green that Lithuania wore.
The flag bearer for the United States was track athlete Lopez Lomong, a former refugee from the Darfur region of Sudan who qualified to represent his adopted country in the 1,500 meters. Lomong, who spent 10 years in a refugee camp after soldiers hauled him away from his parents, was selected by his teammates in what was seen by some as a swipe against China.
Basketball player Yao Ming was again the flag bearer for China, reprising his role in Athens four years ago. He marched into the stadium with 9-year-old Lin Hao, who is a hero in China for saving two of his classmates during the recent earthquake in Sichuan province. More
E-mail Peter Fimrite at firstname.lastname@example.org.