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Ron Judd's Olympics Insider

Ron Judd, an Olympics junkie and Seattle Times columnist who has covered Olympic sports since 1997, will use this space to serve up news and opinion on the Summer and Winter Games -- also inviting you to chime in on Planet Earth's biggest get-together.

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August 8, 2008 4:44 AM

Watching the opening ceremony, so you won't have to

Posted by Ron Judd

Here's a running commentary of the 2008 Beijing opening ceremony, as viewed on CBC. (If you want to read it chronoligically, start from the bottom.)

0918 a.m.
The last member of the 1.25-billion-person Chinese delegation has entered the Bird's Nest.

Over and out.
0912 a.m.

Afterthoughts: An impressive ceremony, but by no means groundbreaking, as some in the Chinese organizing committee had boasted. No gaffes, no glitches, an impressive mix of Olympicdom and Chinese culture. The cauldron lighting was a highlight, as advertised, but, sorry, did not match or surpass other ingenious, daring lightings, such as the flame being shot via arrow to the cauldron in Barcelona in 1992, or the ski jumper lighting the cauldron in Lillehammer in 1994.

The crowd, at least from a TV perspective, didn't appear to be as much into the festivities as at some past opening ceremonies -- perhaps a result of the oppressive heat and duration (four hours-plus) of the affair.

The CBC coverage: Fair, with the broadcast team, as mentioned below, sometimes too absent, when information is called for. CBC will rebroadcast the ceremony at 3 p.m., Pacific time. NBC's coverage begins at 7:30 p.m.

Onward. And upward.

0903 a.m. Flame on!

The final torch bearer, multiple gold medalist gymnast Li Ning, takes the torch and is immediately lifted, on wires, all the way to the top of the Bird's Nest, where he takes long faux strides and appears to actually be running around the lip of the stadium. As he runs, a lighted scroll surface appears to unfurl underneath him on the inside lip of the stadium roof. Onto the scroll is projected a video montage of the flame's path around the globe to get to Beijing. Spectacular.

After a full lap, he approaches a spiral-cone-shaped cauldron, suddenly lit with bright lights at the lip of the stadium, and holds the torch to light the end of a metal bar. The flame, bursting hotter and higher, follows the bar to the upper cauldron, traveling in spiral-staircase fashion, to ignite a roaring upper conflagration.

Big, big fireworks commence. Suprisingly, they don't look as big, or as long, as the post-ceremony fireworks show in Sydney, the most spectacular we've ever seen.

Background: Li, a six-time medalist at Los Angeles, is CEO of a Chinese sports-gear company. His historical status as the lighter of the cauldron was evident on Wikipedia two minutes after he actually did it. How's that for moveable type?
0852 a.m.
As the Official Cheesy Pop Song of the 29th Olympiad is sung by a winner of China's Got Talent, the Olympic torch approaches the Bird's Nest. The identity of the final torch-bearer remains unknown -- an official state secret, the wire services are reporting. No small accomplishment.

The torch is carried into the stadium and relayed around the infield by more Chinese gold medalists -- an amazing array, given that the Chinese have only been competing in the Olympics since the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

Broadcast note: McLean and Mansbridge are woefully neglectful here in identifying all the torch carriers. Sometimes, a little interruption of the official soundtrack is beneficial for viewers.
0850 a.m.
The athlete's and judges' oaths are being recited.

Speaking of the Olympic flag: It's blowing at what appears to be a 20-knot clip, in a stadium with no other visible breeze. Apparently the Chinese also have invented the first self-propelled unnatural-wind flag pole. It's actually sort of cool -- if they would just dial it back to mild-gale force.
0837 a.m.

The Olympic flag is carried into the stadium by some of China's most famous Olympians, including our old friend short-track skater Yang Yang (A), the first Chinese Winter Games gold medalist. The historic flag is handed off to a squadron of Chinese soldiers, who march it, in a goose step fashion that's frankly a little creepy, to the flagpole. The crowd stands for the Olympic anthem, sung by Chinese children, for the flag raising.
0825 a.m.

IOC President Jacques Rogge and the mayor of Beijing walk out on a broad red carpet to a stage at the center of the infield. Speeches commence.

"For a long time, China has dreamed of opening its doors," Rogge says. "Tonight, that dream comes true." He salutes the Chinese people's resilience in response to the Sichuan earthquake.

"These Games belong to you," Rogge says. "Let them be the athlete's Games."

He reminds athletes that they are "role models for the rest of the world" and urges them to reject doping and cheating.

Rogge thanks the Beijing organizing committee and volunteers for their "tireless work."

He concludes: "Beijing, you are host to the present, and the gateway to the future."

Rogge asks the Chinese President, Hu Jintao, to officially open the Games. And surprise: He does it. Fireworks around the stadium.

0807 a.m.
Thousands of dozing spectators are awakened abruptly as China and its delegation of 1.25 billion athletes begins entering the Birds Nest, led by Yao Ming. He's accompanied by a young boy who was a hero of the Chinese earthquake. A big, proud moment for China.

The Parade of Nations, not entirely mercifully, is about to end at two-plus hours. It's sort of like watching baseball: You know something might might eventually happen, but have no idea when. And when it does, you've already missed it.

BTW: If you don't get CBC, you're missing out on some pretty adorable commercials, featuring little kids in Olympic winter sports activities, from Vancouver 2010 sponsor Wonder Bread, of all companies. The footage of the tykes in a bobsled is pretty precious.

One eye-opening fact: The thousands of athletes amassed on the stadium floor -- these are professional athletes, mind you -- all appear to be sweating profusely. If the rest of us were there, who among us would not be lying in a quivering, dehydrated lump? Food for thought there on your couch.
0802 a.m.
New Zealand marches into the stadium. The flag-bearer wears a cape apparently made of fur. Somewhere in Beijing, U.S. swimmer and PETA supporter Amanda Beard strips naked in protest.
0757 a.m.
On it goes.

We can't help but yearn for the gold old days of the Iron Curtain. The breakup of the Soviet Union added a couple dozen nations to the parade. What were they thinking? Things were so much simpler, Olympic-wise, back in those halcyon days of mutally assured destruction.

The Swiss have arrived. Roger Federer carries the Swiss Army flag. Honoring an old Swiss tradition, he refuses to dip it as he passes in front of Rafael Nadal.
0740 a.m.

Georgia has entered the stadium. Following them: Alabama.

On a serious note: CBC is reporting details of fighting and military action in Georgia, the former Soviet Republic. So much for the Olympic Truce.
Drumroll: Here comes the U S of A.

The Americans, wearing white pants and blue blazers, march in triumphantly to .. well, muted applause from the Chinese. In the phalanx of athletes, you can see....

Oh, the humanity: Commercial break!

Not kidding. Maple Leaf Nation clearly is trying to keep all the unheralded canoeing stars to its greedy little self.
0717 a.m.
This just in: The CBC has made contact with its delegation in the infield, utilizing a mobile connection that sounds very much like a string-and-tin-can phone. At long last, viewers are treated to an interview with a member of the Canadian field hockey squad, who reports a "fantastic energy" in the stadium. Nearby, a Chinese cheerleader in white Jan Brady go-go boots drops dead on the ground and is quickly replaced by an identical stand-in.

San Antonio Spurs star Manu Ginobili is the flag-bearer for Argentina, the South American nation that specializes in women's field hockey and dissecting listless U.S. men's basketball teams composed of people incapable of throwing a bounce pass.

The French team has arrived, setting off a round of hissing from the British section of the Birds Nest. Cameras cut to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who -- and this is an international outrage -- is not accompanied by French First Babe Carla Bruni. Marching with the French team is swimming star Laure Manaudou, who, like the first lady, has famously appeared nekkid on the Internets. More on her and her stunning love triangle involving swimming rival Federica Pellegrini of Italy (we are totally serious about this) as the Olympics unwind. (Oh, stop it: You can't expect us to give up all the good stuff on the first day.)

Hearing a whir of hundreds of mini-digicams, we sense the pending arrival of the United States of America, only seven nations away.

0707 a.m.
The athletes are all marshaling in the infield. Surrounding them is a band of Chinese women, in cheerleader-type outfits with white caps and red bandanas, who have been rhythmically clapping and leg-kicking since the parade of nations began nearly four weeks ago. Several have left the stadium on stretchers; the others have been provided supplemental oxygen.

Breaking news update: CBC has just informed us that Whitehorse, Yukon, has two athletes in the Olympics, including one who swims with the Whitehorse Glacier Bears.
0701 a.m.

A canoeist is carrying the flag for Togo. It's now a trend. One World, Many Unheralded Canoeing Stars.

Commercial break. On screen, a bottle of Listerine and a toothbrush are skating a "clean routine" in pairs figure skating. We are making none of this up.

Also: The adrenaline is finally wearing off. Can we get some more coffee over here, please?

Somewhere in the stadium, bagpipers can be heard playing, "Scotland the Brave." No joke. Love that song! Have we mentioned that the bagpipes were invented by ... never mind.
0657 a.m.
The CBC has made three attempts -- all unsuccessful -- to reach Canadian delegation members by two-way radio or phone or something. They are blaming it on the Chinese, who also, as it turns out, invented both static and (very expensive) dead air.
0650 a.m.
The CBC announcers are discussing Canada's medal hopes, and we're pretty sure they actually used the term, "...unheralded canoeing stars..."

f you're watching CBC, note that you can actually watch Olympic action later today -- gymnastics and road cycling among it. American TV will show only the ceremony today. They don't want to overload you with any actual sports action, this being the Olympics and all.

0645 a.m.

O, Canada!

Our adopted home nation marches in, much to the delight of unfortunately named Canadian IOC official Dick Pound, who watches from the stands and appears to be holding in his left hand a dope-testing beaker. A surprising, but nice, touch: Beaver-fur breathing masks.

0644 a.m.

Facts and figures time:

Belarus has 208 athletes, 206 of whom have skin that appears translucent.

India has 57 athletes, nine of whom are shooters, giving them the highest shooter-to-non-shooter ratio of any region of the world outside Detroit.

Seventy nine percent of U.S. journalists inside the stadium are now shuffling through the official program, mumbling, we've got how many nations still to come?

The flag-bearer for Nigeria is a star of table tennis -- a clear homage to the host Chinese, who invented both the table and tennis.

Because Canada is amassing in the tunnel, we're taking a quick break for straight shots of pure Canadian maple syrup.
0635 a.m.
Special note to Judith, commenting below, who is watching on NHK in Japan and appreciates our running commentary in English: Welcome, and good morning! Or afternoon, in your case (One World, Too Many Time Zones). We're happy to assist. Note, however, that some things might get misinterpreted in the process, as we're translating here from the original Canadian.

Meanwhile: Pakistan has entered the stadium, led by... yes, indeed, it very well appears to be Osama bin Laden, who, amazingly, has just walked right past President Bush without even being noticed.
0630 a.m.
The nations are marching into the stadium in order by Chinese name, which explains Turkey being second. We are still at least 20 nations away from the Canadian delegation, so hold your Timbits, folks.

Brazil, nattily attired in green, marches in with a record 274 athletes, who, as usual, all look like they're having more fun than anyone else. Why is that?
0620 a.m.
A great ovation is heard for Japan. Maybe the Chinese are serious about this One World, One Dream business, after all.
0617 a.m.
Always a ceremony highlight, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has marched into the stadium, its athletes marching to iPod music of the Artist Formerly Known as Prince.

Behind them: The Marshall Islands, including Marysville's Haley Nemra, a runner who is competing for the Marshall Islands in spite of the fact that she has never set foot there. Not far behind: Jamaica, whose delegation apparently does not include Usain Bolt, because he simply can't move that slowly.

0613 a.m.
The Parade of Nations begins. In comes Greece, led by the two security zeppelins from the 2004 Athens Games.

The parade is expected to last two hours. We may well nod off. From experience, we can tell you that this is the point in the program when the 10,000 journos on site will pull out their laptops and begin trying to type up a report that wraps in all of the stuff below, still makes sense, and won't provoke 175 nitpicky questions from copy editors, at least one of whom will prove to have been a Chinese history major.

Posts will come slower for a while here. We just don't have that much to say about Turkey's Olympic delegation. (If you're wondering at this point why in the world Turkey comes second, we have no idea.)

We suspect this is the point in the program where NBC will fade away into some of its pre-packaged Olympic featurettes. Oh, the humanity.

We'll check around to see what's being written from the stadium itself. Hang in there.
0610 a.m.
Sara Brightman has left the stage, having been sent back to lip-synch remedial training. She sang, "You and Me," along with a Chinese singer. This is the official Games' theme song -- a clear upset over the odds-on early favorite, "Smoke on the Water." We're guessing you can already download the mp3 file on some illegal Chinese file-sharing service.

More fireworks, heralding, we're told, the arrival of the athletes. The big question: Will U.S. flag bearer Lopez Lomong be wearing one of those black facemasks? Oh, how we'd pay to see that.

Performers representing 56 Chinese ethnic groups are dancing around to welcome athletes from 204 nations (number 205, Brunei, was lost in baggage claim at the Beijing Intergalactic Airport).

First crowd shot in the stands reveals ... a lot of non-Chinese people, suitably impressed.
0600 a.m.

Holy Cow. We've fast forwarded to the space age, as evidenced by a guy flying around in a space suit. Emerging from the floor: A giant blue globe, surrounded by nine rings. On the rings are dancers, who can move across it along its latitude lines, if you will. As they run from side to side, they reveal the seven continents. The ones in the Southern Hemisphere must be wearing ... yes, that's it -- shoes fitted with Velcro, the 155th great Chinese invention! Otherwise, they would fall to their deaths.

On top of the globe, some people are emerging. It's... Sara Brightman! Who even knew she was Chinese? She appears to be wearing rather massive hair plugs, and is singing in Chinese, as athletes -- these are the first athletes, which is what the Games are about, recall -- are projected in action across the large globe.

On the infield, hundreds of people are opening umbrellas, each showing the grinning face of one of the world's citizens. We're pretty sure one of them shows the face of Howard Schultz, but again, we're a long ways away.
0555ish a.m.
We've entered the first martial-arts phase of the program. The stadium is dark. A projection of flowing water appears all around its upper rim, as if flowing into the stadium from all sides. (Note: The Australians did this with real water. But then, they have a lot of it hanging out on their borders.)

More little kids, seated on the stadium floor and wearing backpacks, as if in school, or perhaps on their way to the Nike factory. The giant scroll painting has reappeared, now depicting a new painting, in color, by the little kids.

Broadcast note: CBC's commercial breaks are sporadic and don't allow any sort of normal fridge-rhythm. But you have to commend McLean and Mansbridge for their sparse interruption with the show. A marked departure from the usual NBC constant-blather mode. Nice.

A thought occurs: If I was, like a lot of my good friends, inside the Bird's Nest right now, I'd be wondering: "How in the world am I going to turn this into a 24-inch column? So far, I've got nothing."

Commercial break. We're being warned that the Games overriding theme, "One World, One Dream," is about to be introduced. As Dick Button might say, good time for a bathroom break.
0545 a.m.
OK, good. We're into the New Age. No more severe, drum-march music.

People are running all around the stadium floor, which is blue, in garb that lights up, in black-light fashion, as gleaming green/white against a blue background. (Note to 50-something-year-old Pink Floyd fans: Major '70s concert-T-shirt bad flashback potential here, be advised.)

The people form out the shape of... a dove! It's the dove of piece. Or maybe it's just a pigeon. Speaking of bad flashbacks: The Carol Burnett show. "HERE, pidgy pidgy..."

A small girl is flying through the air, something small girls have done at every one of these since the Sydney opening ceremony eight lyears ago. She's being pulled behind a kite, which is, yes, ANOTHER Chinese invention.

We note a theme developing here, namely: The Chinese have pretty much invented everything.

The 1,000 performers in their Pink Floyd black light suits leave the stage.
Oops. Here comes a depiction of the fourth great Chinese invention: Lead paint.

We KID the Chinese!

It is, actually, the compass, that device that paved the way for an entire slew of grand modern conveniences, including GPS units that today allow Americans to make their way from their unreasonably large homes to their nearest Target store in black Chevy Tahoe multipsort vehicles.

Second commercial break. They're coming in waves now. The usual strategy: Hook 'em, then pummel them.

If you're keeping score at home, the four Chinese inventions: Paper, gunpowder, moveable type and the compass.

The sun is coming up here in the West, shedding light on the fact that Rona, Canada's Home Depot, is an official sponsor of the coming 2010 Vancouver Games, as is Bombardier, a world leader in the manufacture of small, knee-cramping commercial aircraft.

After two minutes back in the Bird's Nest ... MORE commercials. How kind of the CBC to make us Americans feel right at home on their little network.
0533 am.

That commercial break was way too short.

The crowd is announced at 91,000. Average ticket price: $700, Canadian. Don Cherry is nowhere in sight.

The theme on the big scroll has shifted to the Silk Road, a historical route to China from the West, on which, we presume, U.S. speedskater Joey Cheek has to stop and pay ceaseless and unjust tolls. Our impression so far: Very dramatic historical presentation. But the mood has been somber, grim, severe. We're hoping this thing lightens up at some point. At this point in the opening ceremony in Turin, a phalanx of women was walking across the infield in giant hoop skirts that represented ski mountains, complete with tiny skier figurines. How cool was that?

0528 a.m.
The theme shifts to the Great Wall. First commercial break. It's time to unleash the steam from the Keurig....Back in a sec.

0525 a.m.
Continuing with the "type" theme: What appears to be a giant computer keyboard appears on the stadium floor, each of its "keys" a person moving up and down to form patterns. They clearly missed a chance here to use more small children, who could have represented cookie crumbs stuck between the keys.

0520 a.m.
The scroll, now containing an "ink wash painting" rolls back up partway, then appears to roll laterally across the stadium floor. The painting from its center lifts off and rises in the air (note: cables visible, one demerit here). Stadium goes dark, relights to display 3,000 "disciples of Confucius" chanting and holding bamboo books. It's another of the great Chinese inventions: Moveable type printing.

We would note here that we are actually typing on Movable Type software. History comes full circle!

Our most fervent hope for humanity: That the next great Chinese invention might be spellcheck for moveable type...
0515 a.m.:
A film shows the process of a Chinese paper-making process. It's one of four great Chinese inventions to be highlighted in the ceremony, we learn. The others? Well, stay tuned. Gunpowder is one, and we've already seen a lot of that touched off. It must have been on sale at the Beijing Costco...

A giant paper roll, light in white, is unrolling across the stadium floor, toward the end zones, as it were. It's a Chinese painting scroll. Somber music. Thre men in black walk to its center, begin gymnastic moves across the paper, leaving paint trails behind their bodies, revealing a painting. Another nice visual effect from a great distance, like a helicopter. (Note: In our experience, some effects like this are difficult to see from up close, to people actually inside the stadium. Remember, it's all about getting the right effect on TV, not for those folks in the $1,200 seats, and they're doing it well here.)
0512 a.m.:
The rings have hovered about the stadium for some time. Lights on, and they're gone. A small girl in a red dress -- is she the same one from the closing ceremony at Turin? She hasn't even aged! -- is singing, as more children in Chinese costumes carry the Chinese flag into the stadium; the crowd can be heard singing along with her in the background. Very cute kid. No fair, producers, using little ones so early. Always a great tear-jerker move. The girl is 9 years old, CBC says. So far: These announcers are refreshing in their restraint. They're no Matt Lauers. Thank god for small favors. The Chinese National Anthem is played. More fireworks explode across the city, visible from an aerial view.

0510 a.m.:
29 "footprints" of fireworks are going off across Beijing, to commemorate the 29 Olympic Games. Cameras follow this with a helicopter. The bursts lead to the Bird's Nest, which bursts forth with fireworks around its upper rim. Very impressive. In the middle of the infield, the drums are gone, the Olympic rings form in bright white light on the stadium floor.

Oh, here we go: 20 of "dream fairies" are flying through the air around the rings. No visible wires. The rings now apppear to be rising off the floor, as if emerging from the ground. Nice visual effect. Oohs and aahs from the crowd, right on cue.

0505 a.m.:
Drummers. Lots of drummers. "Fou" drummers. Big square drums, by the hundreds, covering the infield of the Bird's Nest. Does anyone know what time Tim Horton's opens?

0500 a.m.:
The 60-second countdown has begun. Our automatic sprinkler system has just come on outside. First time we've ever heard it live. Somehow we knew this was going to be cool...

Ron McLean and Peter Mansbridge are commentating. The presidents of China and the IOC are introduced. Jacques Rogge has that usual constipated look.
0440 a.m.: The left eye is now open. Progress!

We feel a kindred spirit with .... Mark Purdy of the San Jose Mercury-News. Mark is blogging from the Bird's Nest at the Merc web site here. You can compare his impressions from the scene with mine from the sofa. One key difference already apparent: Most of his readers apparently can't get the ceremony live on TV.

All you folks in the Northwest can count yourself lucky to live close enough to the border to get Canada's national network, which, incidentally, is broadcasting its final Olympics, at least for the time being. CBC recently lost the contract to the Vancouver 2010 Games to competitor CTV.

Also: Folks on the scene are reporting that even as 8 pm. nears in Beijing, it's beastly hot -- listed at 90 but feeling much toastier. Our house: About 68 degrees.

Uh-oh: Here comes the hushed tones of an announcer: "China: opening it's gates for all eyes to see! No more mystery. Innocence revealed! Nothing is exclusive. The whole world is invited (blatant editorial aside: except Joey Cheek) and asked to send their best, the fastest, the highest, the strongest, preparing a lifetime for this magic moment, competing against time, each other, and themselves. New heroes. Setting the bar to what, is victory?"

Man. Who writes this stuff? And to think they had seven years to work on this. Well, here we go.

0430 a.m.: Is anyone else in the Western Hemisphere awake at this hour?

The word "ungodly" comes to mind.

Never mind that. It's Op Cer day; you gotta play hurt. Or asleep. Or whatever you might be at 0430.

We're here in Satellite Control, such as it is, in Escrow Heights to watch Beijing's big coming-out, live, on CBC. Yes, we know the whole show will be on American TV, on NBC's typical 15-hour delay. But for whatever reason, we wanted to see and feel the launch of the Games live, to be there at least in spirit.

So, here we are. The flat screen is aglow, some rather pasty looking Canadian guys are at the microphone, and the Keurig coffee machine is all warmed up. Pull up a stool, daybed, or what have you, and come along for the ride.

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Blogroll and links The official International Olympic Committtee site, with news releases, a searchable Olympic medals database and other archival information. Olympic news site from one of the Games' primary sponsors.
NBC Olympics columnist Alan Abrahamson's column/blog
Chicago Tribune Olympic sports writer Philip Hersh's blog U.S. Olympic Committee's athlete web site. Ed and Sheila Hula's Olympic News Service (subscription). News service with audio, video and text coverage of Olympic sports, during and between Olympics. Free, but charges for live video feed subscriptions. Beijing Organizing Committee Web site. Vancouver Organizing Committee's 2010 Winter Games site. London 2012 Summer Games site. Sochi, Russia's 2014 Winter Games site. Candidate city Chicago's summer 2016 bid committee site.
Olympic swimmer Tara Kirk's highly entertaining WCSN blog
Bellevue Olympian Scott Macartney's WCSN alpine ski-racing blog
Other WCSN Olympic athlete blogs.