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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 24, 2008 3:32 PM

Lip-synch redux: Un-live closing ceremony thread

Posted by Ron Judd

Good afternoon, Disadvantaged Time Zone. Goodbye, Beijing. Well, at least shortly.

Being too lazy and tired and depleted to watch it live in the middle of the night, we'll take in the grand spectacle of the closing ceremony via CBC's repeat broadcast, getting under way shortly (they're showing a highlight reel first of all Canada's medals, which surely can't last more than about a minute and a half; oops, there, it's over) and NBC's East Coast feed, beginning at 4 p.m.

This time around, posts will descend in order, from begining to end.

While we're waiting:

Couldn't help but chortle over Jim Lampley on NBC recapping swimming with Rowdy Gaines. Lampley notes that the Michael Phelps story overshadowed everything in the pool. He finally gets around to mentioning Natalie Coughlin (six medals), and notes, "She sort of swam beneath the radar."

Which is an interesting thing to say when you work for the people responsible for aiming the radar.

Also, just cruising all the usual-suspect media sites this morning, consensus is building about the legacy of the Beijing version of the Games: They did, indeed, run like clockwork, as efficiently and painlessly as any Games, ever. But, say people on the scene, there's a hollow feeling accompanying all that; the Games were largely isolated in a bubble from China's own population, and they lacked any semblance of a party atmosphere that's been present at some other Summer Games, notably Sydney and, to a lesser extent, even Athens. The government crackdowns and arrests of people who dared apply for protest permits probably didn't do a lot to help there, nor did what by all accounts was extremely tight security.

Look for London to try to emphasize that point -- something that won't be easy to do, given the city's very real security concerns.

David Barron of the Houston Chronicle has a good take from Olympic historian David Wallechinsky:

"London will be constrained in that they will have an actual budget and can't haul in a thousand workers from the countryside, force them to build buildings and then send them back again," Wallechinsky said.

"But there will be no attempt by London to say we're more spectacular. They can do fun. They can do humor. They can have a party for the world instead of a sober, isolated Olympic zone apart from the city, which is what we have here."

Based on everything we hear from Vancouver, the 2010 Winter Games will similarly strive for a warm, intimate Games -- the anti-Beijing collossus. More on that in tomorrow's paper, with a look forward to Vancouver. Those Games arrive in a mere 18 months, but the buildup begins in weeks. Early ticket sales, and the first World Cup-level test events, start in October.

4:05 p.m.
Don't be in a rush to warm up the tube. NBC comes on the East Coast with Bob Costas announcing that it will, finally broadcast the gold-medal men's volleyball game against Brazil, which we watched a full day ago elsewhere. Unless you're in the mood for even moe leftovers, don't bother tuning in until at least 8 p.m. DTZ.

5:10 p.m.
The closing ceremony begins on CBC, which caught a case of NBC-itis and chose to replay all six glorious Canadian moments from the Games over and over and over and over for the past two hours.

Drummers wearing bike helmets (?) are at stage center as three gigantic bass drums, which look like giant wheels of gouda chees, float through the air, each with its own player. More people in electric costumes scurrying around the floor.

We're guessing they'll never be able to match this in B.C. in 18 months. China has already paraded more people onto the stage than living in all of the province.

NBC is about to start showing the ceremony to the East (Important) Coast of the U.S.
But first ... one more plug for that Michael Phelps CD.

Back on CBC: 1,100 dancers, wearing pink. Those guys in the green electric suits are back, as well. The flying gouda cheese wheels are flying over them, as if coming in for a landing.

Rolling, lighted wheelie cycles roll onto the stage. CBC says many of these performers come from the "Artist's Section" of the Chinese military.

Does our military have an "Artist's Section?" Don't ask; don't tell.

5:25 p.m.
OK, we're starting to catch on. The performers' costumes are supposed to mimic athletic events. For instance, cycling is represented by people wearing muzzles and breathing masks, whereas BMX is represented by people with dirt clods on their foreheads.

We're getting dizzy. What do you expect? Experiencing the greatest moment in Icelandic sports history took a lot out of us.

Speaking of Canada: Earlier on NBC, Jim Lampley was doing a preview piece on Vancouver 2010. It showed helicopter footage of Whistler-Blackcomb, which Lampley described as "The Canadian Rockies." Well, close.

5:30

Oh. Here come the flag bearers, including our own Khatuna Lorig, who seemed like a disappointing choice until you learned that Canada's flag bearer turned out to be a trampolinist. But at least she won a medal. She is described by CBC as "a fantastic choice." The flags are gathering in a circle at center stage. Those 1,000 Chinese women in the Nancy Sinatra white leather go-go boots have run onto the field, forming a human cattle chute through which the athletes, all mixed up in no particular order, are lowing, sorry, running. It looks like a full-on assault from the mini-digic-cam unit of the UN peacekeeping forces.

Two little kids are playing drum sets in the middle of it all. We're pretty sure they're drum-synching. The Canadians are mustering in the tunnel. We recognize Simon Whitfield by face because we have seen him win his silver medal in triathlon at least 73 times, today alone. Some of the athletes are looking into a camera and speaking French. Show offs.

5:45

CBC commercials. On NBC's East Coast broadcast, they have mysteriously caught up to the same place as CBC currently is, after having started a good 10 minutes later with their broadcast. Hmmm. Here come the Americans. We're pretty sure, yep, there's the top of the head of 4-foot-9 Shawn Johnson.

5:52
With everyone assembled on the infield, it's the medal ceremony for the marathon winners from earlier today. Or yesterday. Or last night. Or whenever it was. Sammy Wansiru, the first Kenyan to win, accepts the told before 90,000 people. Very cool. They are now playing Kenya's national anthem, and, in the interest of NOT starting an online debate that will stretch for eight weeks about its quality, we're not going to even think about commenting on the arrangement.

CBC is following track star Priscilla Lopes-Schliep, who medaled in the hyphen. Also Dylan Armstrong, from Kamloops, who finished fourth in shot put.

At center stage, a whole group of little girls who look a lot like that one who sang, sorry, didn't sing the song in the opening ceremony are gathered, waving. At least we think they're waving. Are those really their hands? Who can tell.

6:05

The national anthem of Greece is played. We're not touching that one, either. We're starting to think Greece gets to much credit in these things. Sure, they invented the Olympics and all. But really, what have they done for us lately? Have to say: Those Chinese flag poles with the integrated leaf-blower tops are the coolest piece of technology to be developed for these Olympics.


6:10
Here comes Jacques Rogge, the IOC President who is about to put his stamp on the Olympic Games. Will he call them "remarkable?" Magnificent? Marvelous? Unprecedented? Or, what all of China wants: "The greatest ever?"

Here it comes: "Dear Chinese friends, blah, blah, blah..."

"Through these Games, the world learned more about China, and China learned more about the world..."

"These were truly exceptional Games."

Doh!

Exceptional. You could say that about the Seattle Mariners. Oh, the humanity.

Forty billion, down the drain.

6:20

Little girls are singing the Olympic Hymn as the Olympic flag is lowered. They sound suspiciously like the same voices we heard singing the song in Sydney. And not one of them looks 16 -- something we will take up with the Federation Internationale de Choir Girls at a later date.

The mayor of Beijing will do a flag handoff here to the mayor of London. Done. Here comes the double-decker bus -- appropriately, 10 minutes late. A bunch of Londonish commuters are prancing around outside the bus. Oh, this does not bode well.

A young girl walks off the bus, picks up a soccer ball, gets back on the bus, the top of which peels back and reveals ... Leona Lewis, who is rising on a pedestal and begins to wail into a microphone. Behind her is a very, very old man who looks like he might have once been Jimmy Page. They're doing "Whole Lotta Love." Chinese President Hu Jintao looks to be in gastrointestinal distress.

On to the us steps David Beckham, who kicks the soccer ball across the infield, where it bonks a Games volunteer on the head.

End London bit. To commemorate the leaving of Beijing, some faux athletes walk up an airplane ramp, at the top of which each of them is charged for their first check bag by a United Airlines representative. A large tower rises in the middle of the infield, topped by two white-painted athletes who represent athletic statues. The "memory tower" is complete. Great moments from the Games are projected across the circular screen at the lip of the stadium. The flame cauldron goes dark.

In all seriousness, having been there to witness it many times, it is always a sad moment.

Fireworks outside the stadium. The memory tower is lit to reveal red-clad bodies swaying across it from top to bottom, replicating the flame transported to human bodies. Nice effect. The bodies go on to form various moving shapes on the tower. This is an effect borrowed from the ceremonies of, among others, the Turin Games, where white-clad athletes scurrying across a black background memorably formed the precise shape of a dove.

Fireworks. Big fireworks. Many, many big fireworks. Chinese pop musicians are playing and singing that smash hit, "Beijing, Beijing." The performers are rappeling, like SWAT team members, down from the Memory Tower.

This is followed by a very long, very grating song sung by a group of Chinese women. Next up: Placido Domingo for the operatic portion of our program. If he's not lip-synching, I truly am Bette Midler.

7:05

Ok, it's official. This entire thing is starting to drag on and on and on. Wrap it up, folks. All things told, we're not overly impressed with this ceremony. The best of them find a way to create a celebratory atmosphere using humor, irony and playfulness. This one is reaching for that, but just doesn't get there.

More lighted people fly around the stadium on cables. We suspect a theme here; perhaps the Chinese invented steel guy wire.

Don't all these people have to work tomorrow?

7:12 p.m.

Finally, after all these days, we see it. On the arms of some female athletes in the infield, scribbled in Magic Marker, is a political protest of sorts, scribbled in Magic Marker: "Softball 2016."

Oh well. It's better than nothing.

7:15

Big fireworks finish.

That's all folks. We'll have some parting thoughts on Beijing tomorrow. And check back in; we'll be around here up to and, we hope, through Vancouver.


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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.