Was walking home from a so-so dinner the other night and heard the sounds of someone playing an instrument off in the distance. I couldn’t tell where it was coming from, but it sounded a little haunting and full of chords that sounded quite Asian.
A Chinese soldier who stood stiffly at attention under a balcony at the Hui Yuan media village wasn’t impressed, but I was curious. As I got closer, I could see a man sitting on a bench playing the accordion, which was emitting all sorts of beautiful but slightly mournful sounds.
It was a hot, humid night, probably 30 degrees at 9 p.m. and there was a huge crowd in a plaza outside a restaurant. As I looked closer, I could see a group of figures bathed in orange and green neon lights cast by signs on some of the surrounding buildings.
It looked like they were playing with one of those hacky sacks, if that’s the right name, that kids in Canada and the U.S. sometimes kick around. But they were much too large. On closer inspection, they looked more like oversized badminton birdies.
The Chinese love badminton, and only a few minutes before dinner I had seen restaurant workers taking a break by playing a pickup game on the street, with the giant Birds Nest stadium looming in the distance behind them. But this looked like a combination of soccer and badminton and I was intrigued.
The next day, I asked one of the 14 billion wonderful volunteers at the Games what was going on and what the object was the youths were kicking. I suggested a badminton birdie, and he said it was something else. He said the bottom was made of cork. I said the top looked like a badminton birdie and I tried to draw a shuttlecock. He laughed and drew a picture of a chicken, a pretty good one, and pointed to the feathers.
“Tail feathers and cork,” he said. “We call it jianxi.”
So, now we know.
Swimming Canada currently operates on a $3-million budget. Pierre Lafontaine, chief executive of Swimming Canada, would like to see his budget increased to hire more coaches and increase athlete support.
“People think support to athletes is dollars in your pocket,” he said. “It’s not. It’s more biomechanists, it’s the ability to go race against the best in the world.”
Lafontaine is currently trying to set up a swim meet with Russia.
He’d also like more video equipment and to add more therapists, strength and conditioning coaches and nutritionists to the staff.
AT LEAST HE’S HONEST
Boxer Nordine Oubaali of France was asked about a win the other day. “I have one thing to say about strategy,” Oubaali replied. “I didn’t have any.”
WAVE THE FLAG
Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, in town to promote southern Ontario’s Pan American Games bid for 2015, wasn’t about to get drawn into controversies about whether athletes should be allowed to wave the Quebec flag as well as Canada’s flag at Olympic ceremonies. International Olympic Committee rules prohibit state or provincial flags from being flown. Instead, only national flags can be waved at official Olympic events.
“As a Canadian I’m immensely proud of my country and immensely proud of my flag,” McGuinty said. “I’m more than satisfied with that flag (Canada’s) being up there on its own.”
WHEN THE RAIN COMES
Still can’t get enough of the Chinese volunteers. A couple of ink-stained (literally; the lanyard that hangs around a colleague’s neck got soaked in Thursday’s rain in Beijing and the red and orange colours ran into his shirt, so it’s a good thing the sports editor is paying our dry-cleaning bills) wretches got caught in a downpour after a press conference with Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty on Thursday.
We were standing in the security tent they use to keep us from bringing flagpoles and sharp knives and golf clubs (a guy who bought some knock-off Taylor Mades the other day couldn’t get them past the gate) into the media village when an eager young man came up behind us and put down a couple of chairs so we could wait out the storm. After we navigated the indoor passageway to the main lobby of the village, another worker held up umbrellas for us to get to the next security gate and then onto the bus to the Main Press Centre.
They also have volunteers, or workers, standing immediately outside the washrooms all over the press building. I swear, I think they’d come running if I told one of them I was having trouble with my zipper.
WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?
In case you missed it, a lot has been made in these parts about the Spanish basketball team posing for an official portrait that showed them all with their fingers pulling their eyes back. You know, the way four-year-olds in North America do if they want to pretend to be Chinese.
It’s quite the embarrassment, and the Spanish have apologized profusely for their embarrassing, amateurish, boorish behaviour.
Raptors’ point guard Jose Calderon even wrote about on his web site.
“We felt it was something appropriate, and that it would be interpreted as an affectionate gesture,” Calderon wrote on his ElMundo.es blog. “Without a doubt, some ... press didn't see it that way.”
Unfortunately, Calderon also added the following:
“Some of my best friends are Chinese,” he wrote.
We’re not kidding.
IN THE PINK
The Canadian Olympic Committee hosted a lunch for members of the Pan American Sports Organization at Canada Olympic House on Thursday as part of the Toronto/Southern Ontario bid for the 2015 Pan Am Games. On the way out, a reporter noticed a big table covered with boxes of Immodium (for diarrhea relief) and Purell anti-bacterial liquid. Maybe not the message they wanted to send about the menu.