What is the best way to dissect the recently concluded Summer Games in blovatious Beijing? Do you focus on the stars that came out each night on our television? They were abundant, far more than you could see in the China sky. Might it be better to recount the medals count (as if all the gold in China could erase the debt our federal government owes to the Chinese for lending us money to fight the war in Iraq)? It would be too easy to beat up on the leaders of the Communist Party for faking the Opening Ceremony. But wasn't that little lip-sinking girl cute!
The Chinese leadership did an effective job of demonstrating to the world how an authoritarian regime can present a mostly-safe and absolutely protest-free sports spectacular. I especially liked the procedure for applying to protest that resulted in the applicants being arrested. No fuss, no muss, no riots. Although they apparently invented everything from gunpowder to paper, the Chinese did not invent the First Amendment, and they would be as dubious of the Bill of Rights as Vice President Cheney.
I would rather focus on the business of the Olympics, all those terrific commercial opportunities both past and future. What will prime time celebrity be worth to Michael Phelps? Of his eight winning efforts, my favorite was his winning the 200 Butterfly -- sightless because of faulty goggles! From such are Olympics fables made. (I hope he is not an official endorser of the goggles.) The commercial sponsors -- official and otherwise -- made off like bandits with so many television viewers. (When a television sporting event bombs out, networks often have to make up to their sponsors in some cash-worthy way. Does that mean NBC can go back to get more from the sponsors when the event turns out to be "boffo?")
We all had a good opportunity over the past few weeks to get a sense of the sensibilities of the Chinese government. They are a touchy bunch! A few cyclists show up at the airport wearing their officially-issued masks, and the Chinese are hurt. The IOC and the USOC genuflect and the offending athletes apologize profusely for acting like independent, free-thinking human persons. A former Olympian who was a bit concerned about the Chinese role in abetting the tragedy in Darfur was denied a visa, lest he further pollute the atmosphere with contrary ideas. Could you imagine a government barring foreign nationals because it thinks it might disagree with their politics? (I guess we have been doing that consistently for the last seven years.)
The magic of the Olympics, however, comes from the unexpected successes and failure of the athletes. U.S. track and field was a mixed bag -- fast runners, bad baton passers -- but the human struggles were impressive nonetheless. However, I have had enough of participating governments turning games into an ersatz struggle for moral supremacy. We saw sure winners fail, and upsets that shook the ground. That is the essence of sport, once we got passed the hoopla.
These talented men and women from around the globe participated in marvelous athletic exhibitions. NBC did a fine job, and no one died, at least on the court, field, or track or in the pool. It was a supreme experience for spectators and participants alike.
Last year when we were in London, I asked our favorite innkeeper if I could make reservations for a flat for the summer of 2012. He seemed puzzled, responding that he did not have a reservations book for that far in advance. (He is still back in the days of bound paper tomes, although he no longer uses a quill.) I told him I would send him an email. (Yes, surprisingly he does have an email address.) And so, I already have my reservations for London. The Brits will not be as tidy as the Chinese, but I am ready to hoist a pint to the real winners in these Games, the commercial advertisers. Three cheers for capitalism!