One of the advantages of being a media person at the Olympics is that you can wrangle yourself an invitation to the opening ceremony of the International Olympic Committee’s sessions.
The IOC holds meetings every couple years, and there’s always a big foofaraw at the start of one of their sessions, the 120th of which was held here the other day.
When the Sydney Games were held, the opening ceremony for the session was held, naturally, at the Sydney Opera House. There was local opera and aboriginal music, and it was terrific. In Moscow, when the IOC met to award the 2008 Games to Beijing instead of Toronto or Paris or Fresno (okay, it was Istanbul and Osaka), the celebration was at the Bolshoi, which is where colleague Dave Perkins and I rubbed shoulders with the guy he calls “Rootin’ Tootin’ Vladimir Putin.”
So it was with great anticipation that a couple dozen journalists rolled up to the stunning National Grand Theatre the other night in IOC buses (they had blocked half of downtown Beijing for us to go from the official IOC hotel to the concert venue, which always kind of troubles me. It’s nice to get special treatment, but I hate inconveniencing the locals just so I can get to a concert on time, and I also have to think they’re looking at some idiot from Toronto getting off a bus and thinking to themselves, who the hell is that guy and why does he get a police escort?. Anyway, the centre is a stunner; a glass and steel structure designed in the shape of an egg just a few yards down the road from Tiananmen Square. It’s gorgeous to behold, and it’s surrounded by a shimmering, man-made lake.
We entered from below, so when we stood in the reception area sipping our Tsing Tao and wine we could look up at the glass roof above us and see the “lake” waters shimmering.
A band in the upper balcony, hard by the media types, played the Chinese anthem, which is stirring but surprisingly short, and the Olympic anthem.
After the requisite “peace and harmony and sportsmanship” speeches from Chinese president Hu Jintao and IOC chief Jacques Rogge, the Chinese national orchestra appeared on a stage that rolled towards the audience on a hidden mechanism and clicked into place.
The music was lovely. But they had a fellow from southern California singing The Barber of Seville, and at the end they played “All Toast” from La Traviata. Only a couple numbers had any sort of Chinese sound to them.
The Beijing duck afterwards was great, and the post-concert reception showed off the stunning wood and glass roof in the centre. But it seemed like many folks were disappointed there wasn’t more of an Asian theme to the evening. We can hear La Traviata anywhere. But most of us who came from halfway around the world were dying for some Beijing opera or at least a couple acrobats.
WHAT IF …
With the ceremony taking place in Beijing, someone who wrote about the 2008 Summer Olympic vote (Beijing, you may recall, defeated Toronto, Paris and Fresno, or was Toronto, Paris, Istanbul and Osaka; the memory fades) wondered what would’ve happened if Canada had somehow defeated the Chinese back at the IOC vote in Moscow in 2001.
“Everybody does it their own way,” said Bob Elphinston, who helped organize the Sydney Games and served on the evaluation commission that gave the white glove treatment to the 2008 bid cities prior to the IOC vote. “Nobody could hope to prepare anything the way the Chinese have. The scale is immense and the buildings are spectacular. The way they’ve dressed up the city, it’s fantastic.
“Canada is a great sports country and Toronto would’ve been terrific. You would’ve redeveloped your waterfront. But Beijing is different.”
Elphiston said some folks will compare Vancouver to Beijing, but the big pressure will be on London to try to live up to China’s Games when it hosts the 2012 Summer Olympics.
“This,” he said, “is going to be a tough act to follow.”
When it’s hot in Beijing, and it has been, it’s not uncommon to see men roll up their t-shirts over the top of their pot bellies. One guy the other day rolled his up to his breasts and rolled his sleeves over so it looked like he was wearing a white, cotton bra. That’s one fashion trend we hope doesn’t make its way to North America.
FEELING THE HEAT
Chinese artistic gymnast Cheng Fei was talking the other day about the expectations placed on her and other athletes from China. “So many people expect us to get gold medals, and it’s really a great pressure for us. Sometimes I feel it’s hard to breathe or even cry under the pressure.”
ICE ICE BABY
We think he was kidding, but someone on Monday asked Canadian archer Jay Lyon how his training was going. “It took me a while to adjust,” he said. “I'm from Canada; it’s practically still winter there. People are still ice skating.”
Nice job perpetuating the stereotypes there, buddy.
Canadian sailor Zac Plavsic was asked about his favourite things in life. “I love RS:X sailing,” he said, “but playing guitar is more important to me.” Guess we shouldn’t be penciling him in for a medal?