Gold for action and drama

One of the differences between watching the Olympics here in China and back home is the sheer volume of coverage. We moved into our new apartment yesterday and after a full day of unpacking I have no mood today for trying to organize everything, so I’m sitting in the living room, laptop on lap, while also surfing five channels of live coverage on the multi-faced CCTV.

In the states, my brethren are limited to one network, NBC…and, most likely as usual, primarily the “big ticket” events. Here’s an idea of what I’ve been able to see during the last 10 days:

archery, badminton, basketball, beach volleyball, boxing, canoe/kayak slalom, cycling (road & pursuit), diving, equestrian (eventing, dressage & jumping), fencing, field hockey, handball, judo, rowing, sailing, shooting, soccer, softball, swimming, tennis, track & field, triathlon, table tennis, volleyball, wrestling (freestyle & Greco-Roman), weightlifting and water polo.

The only sports I haven’t caught, haven’t started yet. It’s a bit daunting trying to keep up with it all, but I persevere hour after hour for the sheer drama and action.

The games are more than halfway over now–China has a commanding lead in gold medals, while America holds a slim lead in the overall medal count. Thinking back over the past 10 days there are two events that stand out for me.

Gold Medal for Downright Action: the China/Cuba women’s volleyball match. Yes, the China/USA match was awesome, too. But if you happened to catch my pick for excitement, then I think you’d agree. China opened the match 2-0. The Cuban women fought back in the third set to make it 2-1. In the fourth set, it was a battle for every point, climaxed by (I believe, correct me if I’m wrong) eight match points for China. And I can’t remember her name, but I’m pretty sure one of the Cuban women was personally responsible for four or five of the match point saves. In the fourth set, Jenny was naturally rooting for China. I found myself rooting for Cuba just because I wanted to see more awesome play.

Gold Medal for Outright Drama: Michael Phelps–8 gold medals, 7 world records and that hundredth-second lunge! But what brought tears to my eyes as I watched was that his final gold…that record breaking, history-in-the-making gold medal…wasn’t earned in an individual event. The result didn’t rest solely in that 6 foot, 7 inch wingspan. It took a team to make it happen.

No Medal for No Show: And, finally, although I keep reading and seeing pictures online about the cheerleaders at many of the venues…one thing I have not seen on CCTV coverage, at all, are the cheerleaders. So this is my final medal award of the day…and a brief-bikini show…

Dutch fans "drink" it in. (Photo credit–Thomas Coex/Agence France-Presse–Getty Images)

Dutch fans "drink" it in. (Photo credit–Thomas Coex/Agence France-Presse –Getty Images)

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A (fake) Olympic achievement

Some friends invited us over for dinner last night to welcome us back to Xiangfan. Jenny’s best friend, Tian Jingsong (and her husband, Liu Jian) hosted the dinner party at their new home. Aware that one of my favorite local dishes is longxia (crawfish), Laodi and his wife (Tian Jinsong’s older sister, Dimei) had worked hard all day preparing this and many other dishes for us.

(Laodi means younger brother, Dimei means younger sister; they call me Laoge (older brother) because I’m the eldest of the group. Laodi, by the way, is a retired Air Force pilot, an interesting man who’s also interested in learning more about this laowai laoge. And the funny thing is that Jenny doesn’t even know their given names since the Chinese typically address each other by a relationship name.)

The table talk naturally turned to the Olympics, starting with the opening ceremony. Never mind that the 29 footsteps, representing the 29th Olympic games, turned out to be fake fireworks; digital creations that took a year to produce and inserted into the live broadcast…everyone had been suitably impressed with the spectacle. And never mind that it cost $300 million, compared to Greece’s $30 million in 2004. A certain amount of ostentation was necessary for China’s debut on the world stage.

Anyway, given all the pre-game hype about whether China can best America this time in gold medals, medal count, or both…I asked everyone about their opinion. The general consensus surprised me somewhat.

Doesn’t matter, they said. Even if China does win more gold medals (which is more important than the medal count, as all cultures place little to no emphasis on paltry runners-up), it would be just a jia chengjiu…a fake achievement. Because everyone knows the Chinese government recruits, trains and supports its athletes in a manner that is, well, downright unfair.

As I have been watching the coverage here, when CCTV lists current medal standings, the ranking is ordered by the number of gold medals. As of this moment: China–11, USA–7. On the New York Times website, since I can’t watch NBC coverage, the ranking is ordered by total medal count, currently USA–21, China–18.