Reflecting on the Olympics from record times to filthy air

On TV the 2008 Summer Olympics looked like a series of tight camera shots and sweeping emotions. With the remote in hand you can probably imagine hanging with all of the athletes from the Asian-idolized Kobe Bryant to Canadian paddle-freak Adam van Koeverden throwing high-fives and slapping asses rooming together and giving “go get ’em Tiger” pep talks.

Now that the games are over it’s interesting to reflect on some observations from Beijing.

LIGHTNING STRIKES

9.69. Damn that’s fast. Britney Spears couldn’t finish off a piece of chocolate cake in that amount of time. Usain Bolt needed 41 strides to cover the 100 metres and none of the other runners were even close so he began his celebration virtually 20 metres before it was even done stretching out his arms with palms up then slapping his chest. When he crossed he ran a bit of a victory lap doing a little dance blowing kisses to the crowd and clowning around. Beyond doing it in a place where air quality is so poor this record is significant in that someone ran it in less than a 9.7 for the first time (without outside influences). This record is just a testament to the tremendous evolution of the human condition over time and it shows us how far we’ve come over the years. At least until you go down to McDonald’s — ironically a major sponsor of the games — and realize that we’re really not that advanced after all.

CHOW LIKE A CHAMP

We learned Michael Phelps is at least part swordfish and what’s more he’s a hungry hungry boy. He revealed the secret behind his six-days-a-week five-hours-a-day training regime: an extraordinary 12000-calorie daily diet six times the intake of a normal adult male. With consumption like that all-you-can-eat buffets must tremble in fear when this kid shows up. The old wisdom used to be that world-class athletes had to eat extremely healthy foods like nutrient-rich vegetables and free-range meats. After the media focused on Phelps’s daily eating regimen however I was amazed to see his diet is closer to Rosie O’Donnell’s than Jane Fonda’s. Phelps has to keep his intake up in order to compensate for all the calories he burns during the 30 hours per week he spends in training. In the end when you are burning five figures worth of calories a day you are allowed to eat whatever you want. When you are winning gold medal after gold medal you can top your three chocolate chip pancakes with bacon grease if that’s your thing. After he retires from the pool the guy should consider a career in competitive eating. Just imagine what he could do with a tub of hot dogs.

NEVER EVER AGAIN

The real story of the Beijing Games however was not the fastest man ever to swim in water or run on land. It was the story of China — where this highly impressive yet horribly oppressive country is headed in the future and what these games signify. There will never be another Olympics of this stature again. No other host city can simply decide to open its wallet and drop an estimated $43 billion to build jaw-dropping stadiums and fund the entire operation. Or shut down factories to clean filthy air. Or pull half of the cars off the road to improve transportation.

All the superlatives were earned. Beijing put it all on the line for the Games rallying the country spending billions to rebuild the ancient capital and constructing stadiums of architectural fantasy. It was a spectacle worthy of high-def TVs in living rooms across the globe yet you can’t help but feel at least a little uneasy. Take the opening and closing ceremonies for instance. So much of the event employed tens of thousands of rigorously trained performers stunning viewers with vibrant displays of colour and mass synchronization. Like an army rows upon rows of drummers and dancers entertained with the thumping sense of militancy and threat.

The Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube will surely go down as two of the best stadiums anywhere in the world. To see the venues at night when a kaleidoscope of colours seems to pour forth from their walls is to marvel at the ingenuity of modern architecture. But a free society would never tolerate such a wildly extravagant ego trip from its leaders — much less foot the bill for a massive coming-out party.

Still the lesson here transcends athletics and Olympic legacies and on many levels it’s a powerful message to the rest of the world: whatever the problem whatever the ambition China has the money and manpower to do whatever its party leaders want. London’s going to have a tough time living up to the all-out vivacity of Beijing’s party.

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