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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 11:33 PM

Opening ceremony, second thoughts

Posted by Ron Judd

OK, having now seen all, some, then all of the opening ceremony again throughout the day, a couple more impressions:

-- The ceremony, in full-on HD and hi-fi sound, was a visual triumph on television. Having seen a lot of these, I can say that nothing has equalled it in presence, precision, and sheer force of humanity. Friends on the scene in the Bird's Nest -- after rehydrating from the sweat bath that was the stadium -- agree with that assessment. It was stunning.

"When it comes to opening ceremonies," Bob Costas said, "retire the trophy." And he's right. It wasn't the most heartfelt, or the most original. But technically and artistically? Off the charts. Plus, the Chinese get it about the flame in the cauldron: Make it big, baby.

-- NBC's coverage, with some obvious caveats (two words: Matt Lauer) was effective. Not in the constant blather and faux emotion of Costas and Lauer, but in its production values and in the interpretation of the historical and cultural elements of the show by NBC China analyst Josh Cooper Ramo -- a former Seattle Times intern! (We taught him everything he knows.)

NBC seemed to stick longer with visuals of chosen subjects, and frankly seemed better prepped. Costas, for example, was ready with names and careers of all the Chinese athletes who carried the torch around the stadium, making it much more meaningful. CBC's Ron McLean and Peter Mansbridge, by comparison, fumbled the same scene badly, seemingly reading the names off the scoreboard, and offering little to no background.

The tradeoff, however, is the network's trademark overkill and absolute, petrified fear of dead air. Lauer at times seemed to be actually reading verbatim from a World Almanac during the Parade of Nations. Did you know that Paraguay is the only nation in the UN with a flag different on the front and the back? Who cares?

All in all, a solid job by NBC. Now, if they could only get that live-broadcast bit right. Today's spectacular ceremony could have aired live on the East Coast at 8 a.m. We're guessing there was enough interest in the ceremony that a lot of people would have stayed home from work, watched from work, or found a way to truly experience the event by taking it in live. A prime-time rebroadcast would have nabbed everyone else -- plus a lot of repeat customers, if the show came off as promised. Don't hold your breath for any of this, however. It's all about cash, and NBC has sold a cool billion dollars worth of ads for these Games. The bottom line is the bottom line.

-- Nice touch, putting up a quick visual tribute to the late Jim McKay at the show's closing -- especially since he spent most of his career at rival ABC.

-- Try as we might, we still can't get around the Bird's Nest's uncanny resemblance to a bed pan. Did you know the Chinese invented the bed pan?

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Blogroll and links

www.olympic.org: The official International Olympic Committtee site, with news releases, a searchable Olympic medals database and other archival information.
www.nbcolympics.com: 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
www.usolympicteam.com: U.S. Olympic Committee's athlete web site.
www.aroundtherings.com: Ed and Sheila Hula's Olympic News Service (subscription).
www.wcsn.com: News service with audio, video and text coverage of Olympic sports, during and between Olympics. Free, but charges for live video feed subscriptions.
www.beijing2008.com: Beijing Organizing Committee Web site.
www.vancouver2010.com: Vancouver Organizing Committee's 2010 Winter Games site.
www.london2012.com: London 2012 Summer Games site.
www.sochi2014.com: Sochi, Russia's 2014 Winter Games site.
www.chicago2016.org: 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.