Olympic Pride

Hosted by

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.

Those who have been privy to the dress rehearsals for the Opening Ceremonies of the Beijing Olympic Games, to get under way for real tomorrow, say the pomp and pageantry driven by leviathan national Chinese pride is beyond what we in the West could possibly understand, much less generate. That tomorrow's show will be the most dazzling extravaganza in Opening Ceremonies history is not hard to believe.

If we think image-making is an American pathological obsession, we can't hold a symbolic candle to the Chinese. Just look at the architectural wonders they have produced to house these Games. The Water Cube, ready to host swimming and diving, is nothing short of breathtaking. At night especially, it is a stunning, shimmering jewel of blue, seeming to float with no solid structure supporting it. The main arena, home to Track & Field and the Opening Ceremonies, is called The Bird's Nest, an inviting, cozy, self-contained swirl of metal strands that intimate some kind of magic must be brewing inside.

All the Beijing Olympic structures stand side by side with the centuries-old palaces of the Forbidden City and other buildings from various Beijing eras. Tombs laden with gold, private theaters with inlaid detail we Westerners gawk at with unrelatable disbelief. So there will be a cultural disconnect and at the same time a cultural appreciation when we Westerners witness the zowie-wowie grandeur of tomorrow's Opening Ceremonies. Agreed that we don't know from putting on a phantasmagoric show the way the Chinese do. But national pride? I'm not sure the Chinese are one up on any nation in that department.

It wasn't that long ago, only 2002, that several of the town's model citizens up in Salt Lake City were so rabidly intent to experience Olympic pride that they went to jail for it. They doled out diamonds, huge stacks of cash, and even arranged surgeries on the sly to bring the Olympics to their fair city. We learned from the Salt Lake City bribe bust that cities around the world had been bribing Olympic officials for decades for the chance to rub elbows with gold medalists, for the privilege of hosting the most honored party on Earth, the Olympic Games.

I swear the entire population of Australia was bursting with pride during their hosting of the 2000 Games. They're the ultimate sporting public, the Aussies (Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oy, Oy Oy!) and, from shop merchants to hotel clerks to Sydney Harbor boat captains, they had a collective grin of pride beaming the entire span of those Games. You feel it each time, each city. Lillehammer. Sarajevo. Athens. The city, the country rises to the occasion of host par excellence and struts every charming and impressive aspect of their culture. So the fanfare in Beiing will no doubt be unparalleled, but don't tell me the national pride will burst the Chinese buttons any more than in all Olympic Games past.

As much as I've argued to hold the Olympics permanently in Athens every four years and avoid the expense of billions of new dollars going into building yet another Olympic site, seeing the uniqueness that China has brought to these Games already reminds us that the Olympics bring the diversity of the world together in the name of peace and honor. And each new global setting ushers us into the deep history and current accomplishments of Barcelona or Seoul or Tokyo or Mexico City.

Tomorrow, 8-8-08, is much more than a crap shooter's lucky day in Vegas. It's a symbolic day of great luck to all the citizens of China. It's a day for the world to embrace China, past and present. So let the Games begin!

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.

Banner image: Xinhua



Diana Nyad