It was ever so much easier to ignore the Olympics in America than in this upside down nation of sport fanatics. I had no idea just how much insipid cynicism had crept into my psyche until I succumbed to the hype and watched the sumptuous opening ceremonies in Beijing, reacquainting me with a gawping child of the 70’s, so enamored of Olga Korbut and Nadia Comaneci that she embarked on a short-lived career in gymnastics – which is the reason why at 40 I can still put my hands flat on the floor in a forward bend (although my ever-expanding beer gut is daily threatening that particular pastime.)
Aside from the sheer entertainment, the opening ceremonies served as a painful reminder of how much the structure of world has changed since I took geography in college. I was more than a little dismayed at the number of countries of whose existence I was completely unaware. Watching the parade of athletes also revealed much about the social climate of the participating nations. The cheer received by Iraq was heart warming, but the lack of female athletes from Arab countries in general was disturbing. The smiles of the competitors from war-torn African nations were encouraging, even if the numbers of participants from each team was disparate.
I still plan to ignore as much of the actual sporting events as possible, which means I am going to have to bury my head in the sand for the next two weeks. I am however, most intrigued by the socio-political dialogue initiated by this year’s venue. It has opened up fascinating discussions of communism, religious oppression, globalism, pollution, censorship, and conformity. China is clearly a world leader in at least five of those categories, particularly the latter - as illustrated by the mesmerizing synchronicity of the opening spectacle. Having suffered the abuses of a maniacal marching band director in high school, I can only wonder at the daily beatings that must have been required to achieve such precision among Beijing’s enormous color guard.
Band directors and gymnastic coaches must be cut from the same cloth as sadistic dictators.