I spent the last month and a half in Hong Kong, watching the unprecedented buildup to the 2008 Summer Olympics. Seeing the countdown clocks in the subway stations, wading though the piles of Olympic mascot merchandise in every store (Nini! On a horse!) and marveling at how officials were always able to cram one more Olympic poster on one more building was quite the education. (Though Hong Kong and China are officially “one nation, two systems” until the year 2046, China didn’t pass up the chance to slap the word “Beijing” on every flat surface in Hong Kong, letting every picture-snapping tourist know exactly who was in charge.)
So what did the locals think? Not much. They can live without the dressage quarterfinals happening in their back yard. Most of the folks I talked to saw the Olympics as one big P.R. campaign by the People’s Republic of China.
You see, the Chinese government really wants these games to go over well. Their success will prove to the locals (theoretically, anyway) that China is one, big, benevolent, happily united nation (including Tibet, which we’re not talking about, and those ungrateful bastards in Taiwan). Outside the local area code, hosting this giant, international party proves (again, theoretically) that China is a power player on the worldwide scene.
So, with the Olympics three weeks deep and on the verge of closing out for the summer, what have we learned by watching this sporting spectacle stateside?
1) Michael Phelps is Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner. And you’d better get used to that giant, triangular face of his, because you’re going to be seeing it in every single TV commercial for the next four years.
2) Of the 35 different sports featured in the Summer Olympics, swimming, gymnastics and volleyball are the only ones deemed suitable for primetime viewing by American audiences. Suck it, badminton.
3) No matter what your gender or sexual preference, beach volleyball is hot.
4) The stadiums look very nice and all, but there sure are a lot of empty seats up in the bleachers. And while we’re on the subject of venues, what do you do with a 65,000 square meter, 17,000-seat Water Cube once the Olympics have bugged out?
5) That weightlifter who got his elbow bent backwards: Didn’t see that coming.
6) Béla Károlyi is a freak. How come this guy has escaped having his own reality show?
7) Bob Costas can talk at great length about anything.
8) There’s a country called Andorra? Wasn’t that the mother-in-law on “Bewitched”?
9) It must suck to be the one athlete from Niger who got sent to the Olympics. Talk about pressure. I suppose you could call up the one guy from Grenada (who lost in the first round of welterweight boxing) and go for drinks.
10) When the Chinese get organized, it’s scary. If they ever invade, we’re boned.