Saturday, August 16, 2008

Cheers and Logistics: Watching the games

More from Colin Hanna '11, who is in Beijing for the Olympics:

A week has passed since the Olympics started. I thought it was time I checked in and shared some general impressions as well as memorable moments.

Thus far, my experience at the Olympics has been spectacular. As of tonight I've seen five swimming events at the Water Cube, a couple of water polo games, the men's gymnastics all-around final, a USA soccer match, and a track and field session at the Bird's Nest. The events I've gone to have all been well attended, but are by no means sold-out. This is depressing. Especially when I personally know a few sets of parents in Beijing who have had trouble seeing their own children compete.

Beijing has done a spectacular job with their venues. Every one I've seen is clean, elegant, and mostly well designed. That said, there are significant problems with the Olympic Green itself and with how the Games are being administered. The Olympic Green is a 12 sq. km area in northern Beijing that is well developed but a bit sparse. Attending Olympic events one finds oneself doing more than a fair bit of walking. Only spectators with tickets to events held in venues on the green are allowed in, and even then only for the day that the spectator has a ticket for. This means that not a lot of people are found relaxing and enjoying the atmosphere of the Games. For sponsors, these rules have meant that the daily number of visitors to their booths and zones have fallen far short of anticipated figures. There is also no food court to be found on the Green. There are snack bars that sell the same limited array of food at every venue, as no food or drink can be taken inside. Last but not least, taxis are not let anywhere near the Green unless they are carrying a ticketed passenger. There are no organized taxi queues for people who are leaving events. I had to walk around for close to an hour tonight in order to find a cab, and I drove by hordes of people still searching for a cab.

Apart from these few complaints, the Olympics have seemingly run smoothly and successfully. China is a proud nation itching to show itself off to the rest of the world. At any event in any venue, you'll find that when a Chinese athlete is competing, underdog or favorite, win or lose, the atmosphere intensifies tenfold. It is not simply the planning and preparation that has helped see China to a strong lead in the gold medal count. Home field advantage is palpable here. Many visitors, myself included, find ourselves supporting the Chinese athletes as well. I watched a China vs. Italy water polo match the other day, and I can say that in general the feeling in the stands when a Chinese runs a best time or scores a goal or wins a heat borders on euphoric. Sometimes this atmosphere seems exclusionary, as when I heard a young boy remark to his father in Chinese, "Daddy, don't watch this race! There are no Chinese in it!" But more often that not the locals are simply cheering on their heroes, and with grins and cheers are inviting us to do the same. After all, there is something to be said for a crowd that continues to cheer their team on passionately even after they fall behind 8-2.

I've watched some amazing swimming while I'm here. During the morning that the men's and women's 100 back, women's 100 breast, men's 200 free and other events were swum I had front row seats. I also got to witness some great swims by Princeton's very own. As mentioned earlier, Bryan Tay '12 had a fabulous swim in the 200 free early in the week. Doug Lennox '09 also had great swims in both his events, the 100 and 200 fly. In the 200 Doug was out quick, leading the field at the 100, but ended a little slower than his best. In the 100 Fly that took place on the 14th, Doug swam an awesome swim in a lifetime best of 53.34! Don't let that get you too excited though. While watching Doug, I and some other Princeton supporters decided to take off our shirts and swing them around while cheering. We were immediately swamped by Olympic volunteers shouting for us to sit down and put our shirts back on. A swimming pool is not a suitable place to be topless.

I must say, the water cube is a jaw-dropping pool. From the deck the ceiling is translucent and one feels fast just walking into the place. Seeing track and field tonight, the Bird's Nest gave me the same jitters. Both structures are truly iconic.

Well, I best be off as it is getting late. I have many more stories to tell and will be back with them soon.

Yi hou zai shuo!