Sun, August 24, 2008

Exceptional, but without joy

By

BEIJING –An IOC president was never supposed to say something like this again.

After Juan Antonio Samaranch, unable to think of anything positive to say in the place where the IOC head previously had declared the Games to be “the greatest ever,” he called the Atlanta 1996 disaster “remarkable”. That's when the IOC placed a ban on the tradition of referring to every Olympics as the best ever.

Jacques Rogge said the heck with it and declared Beijing 2008 to be brilliant and did everything but use the term best ever as he declared the Games of the XXIX Olympiad closed here Sunday night.

“Tonight we come to the end of 16 glorious days which we will cherish forever,” he said. “Through these Games, the world learned more about China and China learned more about the world.”

And then he said it.

“These were truly exceptional Games!”

And they were. The Chinese proved to be outstanding organizers, even if they had great difficulty reacting to the unexpected. They produced by far the best athletes village in the history of the Olympics, by far the most first-rate facilities and the most efficient transportation system.

They may, indeed, have been the best organized and produced Games ever.

But there was one thing missing.

It was noticeable in its absence in the opening ceremonies and noticeable through every day of the Olympic Games.

From start to finish there was a distinct lack of joy.

And that's what was missing most when it ended here Sunday night.

The closing ceremonies, vowed artistic director Chen Weiya, who wowed the world with the openers, would focus on a theme of “harmony, friendship and joy.”

But, again, there was no joy.

When you ask most people who have attended a large number of Olympics, I think you'll find they'll rave about every aspect of these Games but when you asked them if these ranked with their favorite Olympics of all time, won't be able to tell you that they did.

Sydney, Barcelona, Seoul, Montreal, Lillehammer, Calgary, and Sarajevo all ended up ahead on my scorecard of 15 Olympics covered because they all had what these Games didn't. They were a joyful experience to attend.

Last night it definitely wasn't a particularly joyful experience to be at the closing ceremonies.

While China gave the world the most awesome, brilliant, inspired, powerful and original opening ceremonies in history, they also became the first victims of trying to follow that act with their own closing ceremonies. As overwhelming as the opening ceremonies were, the closing ceremonies were underwhelming.

They failed in so many ways.

The entrance of the flag bearers, for example, was forgettable for everybody including, one suspects, the flag- bearers themselves. The Chinese decided to divide them into two groups and hustle them all on the floor in Olympic record time of four minutes and 30 seconds.

If Canada didn't have such a distinctive flag, people from our nation in the crowd of 91,000 would have never noticed three-time trampoline medal winner Karen Cockburn of Toronto carrying ours into the stadium.

The athletes were then herded in from four different entrances and, again, if Canada's group didn't stand out wearing distinctive patterned Chinese pajama-like bottoms, they might have been missed, too. Chinese giant basketball star Yao Ming also brought the Canadian athletes into focus by spending a great deal of time in their midst posing for pictures.

The highlight was an almost Disneyland electrical parade-type opening featuring a 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 countdown in fireworks in the sky over the Bird's Nest.

The opening number featured two large airborne “heavenly drums”, drum carts, silver bell dancers and electrical light wheels with the diameter of 2.008 metres. But it paled in comparison to the 2,008 Fou ancient percussion instruments made of clay and bronze, the same number of performers created a rhythm and light show which counted down the seconds to filling the Beijing sky with fireworks, 11,456 of them on the top of the stadium and 8,428 around the city in the stunning opening ceremonies.

In fact the fireworks in the closing ceremony didn't come close to several other Olympics and with gunpowder having been invented here, that was supposed to be a given.

The transfer of the Olympic flag to London didn't really make it, either.

It was celebrated by a double decker British bus being driven around the stadium with a show surrounding and emerging from out of the top of the bus doing little to wet whistles for the ceremonies in 2012.

But something tells me four years from now we'll be writing about an Olympics of great joy and a Games we'll remember on a list with our other favorites.


MORE FROM TERRY JONES

MEDAL COUNT

VOICES FROM THE GAMES