Sunday, August 5, 2018

What Beijing 2008 Meant to Me


Before 2008, I was simply a casual Olympic fan. I took notice that they were happening, watched a little bit of the Opening Ceremonies, and watched a couple of things here and there.

But in August of 2008 - ten years ago this month - several things came together that transformed me from a casual fan to a rabid fan.

The first was the fact that I myself was going to be traveling to China later that month to be a teacher in the middle of the country. Before heading there, I would have one day in Beijing itself. I knew that NBC enjoyed telling stories about the host country's life and culture, and would be very interested to hear more about China.

The second happened right here:


Like I mentioned before - I have seen Opening Ceremonies in the past, so I knew there was a cultural aspect, and then the parade of nations, and then the lighting of the cauldron. But as soon as those 2,008 drummers started yelling, I knew that this Opening Ceremony was going to be something to remember.

To this day, I don't believe that Opening Ceremony has been topped by the ones that followed. To their credit, the organizers of Vancouver 2010 and London 2012 knew they couldn't top it. The massive amount of people who all had to work as one cohesive unit in the Beijing production was seemingly insurmountable.

During the Olympics I was attending Chinese-teaching-prep seminars in Minnesota. These classes didn't really require a whole lot of homework, so my evenings were spent watching all the NBC primetime coverage (back when it was really the only way to watch some stuff). I got to watch men's and women's beach volleyball, men's volleyball, water polo, gymnastics, track and field, and all the swimming finals - remember, NBC requested that the swimming finals occur in the mornings so they could air live in the States.

I watched all of Michael Phelps' gold medal wins. To be honest, I almost turned off the TV in disgust during the men's 4x100m because the French were so far ahead at one point. But I didn't - and I was rewarded with Jason Lezak's astounding comeback and win.

There are so many storylines that I will never forget: Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin's clash in the women's all-around, Misty May and Kerri Walsh crushing the competition on the beach, Jonathan Horton leading the US men to an astounding bronze medal in the team gymnastics competition, two sweeps on the men's track in the 400m and 400m hurdles, and Dawn Harper's triumph in the 100m hurdles after no one on the NBC coverage gave her any airtime.

Honestly, Harper's gold medal was my favorite aside from the Phelps medals. All the coverage was given to her Team USA teammate Lolo Jones. Like, all of it. Harper was mentioned in passing as the athletes were announced, but that was it. And then Jones stumbled in the last two hurdles and Harper crossed the finish line first. And still NBC wouldn't acknowledge her, talking about Jones' heartbreaking stumble instead. It was like they were scrambling for information about Harper because they didn't bother to do any research beforehand! (I'm watching the DVD recap from 2008 that I own, and even in that recap they gave several highlights to Jones' failure and three seconds to Harper. Ridiculous.)

If you show me uniforms and medal ceremony attire for the United States, I can always tell you which ones were from 2008. The track and field team wore one of my favorite blue kits. The swimmers had stars and stripes on the famous "suits" that created so many world records. The medal ceremony attire was white with a blue V on the top. Liukin wore a pink leotard and Johnson wore red.

2008 was the first Olympics where I was recognizing names and still remembering them in the following years: Phelps. Coughlin. Lezak. Bolt. May. Walsh. Dalhauser. Harper. Richards. Felix. Williams. Liukin. Johnson. Cavic. Cseh. Horton. Adlington. Bernard. Torres. Wariner. Merritt. Bekele. And more!

After these Olympics, I stuck with these athletes. I became aware of World Championships (though it was still hard to find a place to watch them). I found track and field coverage here and there. When London 2012 rolled around, I rooted hard for those athletes that I knew from four years earlier and actively searched my DVR to make sure I watched more than the Big Three of gymnastics, swimming, and athletics.

As a matter of fact, thanks to that DVR and live-streaming that started with Sochi 2014, I found it all too easy to get sucked into the Olympics. But it wouldn't have happened without the spark of Beijing 2008.

Some visa issues postponed my arrival in Beijing until September, but it didn't postpone my Olympic enthusiasm - nor the enthusiasm of my students. One of the questions I got the most often from my Chinese students was "Do you know Michael Phelps?"

I wish, students. I wish.

Eventually as I left China after my work was done, I caught sight of the Bird's Nest and Water Cube from the taxi that was taking me to the airport. Nowadays I would have demanded a day trip to those sites. But at the time I simply marveled at the size and scope of those two venues, and giggle at the thought that I was seeing those buildings in person when I spent so much time watching them in August.

I am certainly not a "casual" Olympic fan anymore, and Beijing 2008 was the catalyst for my fandom. If it had to be any Olympics, I'm glad it was this one.

Tokyo 2020 Prep

Recently Japan has been hit with quite a heat wave, and it coincides with the same time of year when the Olympics are being held. I've learned many ways to beat the heat, but it's a lot easier to do so when there is free water and I have a refillable water bottle. How will it work when I'm in a different country?

Hopefully the Japanese organizers will make sure that something as important as water is available in the venues with little or no cost. I'd rather not resort to vending machines and strange carbonated products to try to quench my thirst!

Olympic Channel Video of the Week

Ever heard of Anthony Nesty? He swam for the Republic of Suriname and shocked the world in 1988!

Mini Blurbs

  • Unlike last week, there wasn't a whole lot going on in the Olympic world, event-wise. The swimming European Championships were taking place, but we can't watch them over in the US. I caught some fencing and archery, but not much else!
  • The Fencing World Championships were last week and I watched a few matches. Fencing is a curious sport. It's basically an explosion that the audience doesn't really follow until one of the athletes screams and stops fencing. The commentators on the World Championship feed even mentioned that coaches have to train fencers to not go berzerk. 
  • If you're looking for even more swimming between the National Championships and the Pan Pacs (which start Thursday!), watch the Deck Pass show that they had. They interview swimmers and talk about the National Championships each morning and evening of the competition. I found it to be a lot of fun! Plus one of the hosts is a childhood idol of mine, Amy Van Dyken!
  • In non-comptition news, Visa extended its sponsorship with the Olympics through 2032. Still waiting on Coca-Cola. Can you imagine if Coke didn't sponsor the Olympics and Pepsi swooped in? That would boggle my mind. 
  • There have been a lot of anniversaries happening the past few weeks, because a great many Olympics took place in late July and early August. That's only going to continue with the 50th anniversary of the Mexico 1968 games come October! (Yes, there was a Summer Olympics in October!) Follow Olympic Twitter to hear more (or follow me and I'll retweet them out!). 
  • If you didn't catch it during the week, the podcast episode of Olympic Fever that I was in came out on Thursday. We also picked our next book in the Olympic Fever Book Club: Running For My Life by Lopez Lomong. I'm going to start reading the book this week! 

Weekly Cauldron Check

Is the cauldron lit????

...No.


I'm Claire Nat and you're reading Light The CauldronFollow me on Twitter and Facebook @CauldronLight and read my past Olympic articles! You can start with my daily recap of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics HERE!


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