Iconic venues such as the Bird's
Nest and the Water Cube were marvels of modern architecture and, intertwined
with Beijing's ancient
sites, provided a fascinating backdrop for the most expensive Games ever
A worldwide audience couldn't get enough of it, hungrily hunting down every detail
on the characters playing out sport's most marvelously unscripted drama. The
Olympics was a nightly epic soap opera, in which Michael
Phelps played the ideal leading man. The American swimmer's glorious
quest for an unprecedented eight gold medals was compulsive viewing—and
compulsive clicking. Fans eagerly sought
to know about the Baltimore
native's arm span, eating regimen, his family, and whether or not he was
Paraguayan javelin thrower Leryn Franco
and Brazilian soccer star Ronaldinho
broke the American monopoly in Olympian searches. Franco could only manage 51st
place in her discipline, but the Miss Paraguay runner-up proved all that clicks
is not gold, becoming a hotter search item than bikini-clad champions of the
beach (volleyball gold-medalists Kerri Walsh
Treanor) or a supersonic Lightning Bolt (a.k.a.
triple gold-medalist and world record-breaker Usain).
The host nation was not content with simply throwing the party—China
wanted to keep most of the gleaming prizes for itself. Its emergence as a dominant
force in Olympic sports, with a whopping 51 golds, was easy to predict. The
blanket success though, did not allow for the emergence of a single iconic
figure like a Phelps, especially after hometown hero Liu
Xiang was injured in the heats of the 110m hurdles. The native successes
that did emerge included gymnast He Kexin,
whose official age of 16 came under heavy scrutiny, and diver Guo Jing Jing,
whose bounty tied her with Fu Ming
Louganis for the most diving gold.
The possible under-age athletes proved to be just one of several controversies that
cast a shadow over the Games. Before 08-08-08, protesters criticized China's involvement in Darfur and Tibet. Environmental
issues in the country's own backyard were not cured by stopping the factories
from belching out fumes for a few short weeks. Areas set aside for dissension
remained empty because of a labored application process. Bureaucratic
paranoia pulled a seven-year-old singer Yang Peiyi from the Opening
Ceremony, replacing her with a "prettier" girl who lip-synced to Yang's song.
Yet rightly or wrongly, Olympics are rarely remembered by matters thus. Few could
dispute that Beijing
put together a spectacular carnival of sport: Bookended by Zhang Yimou's cinematic displays, the
event was a titanic effort of organization, efficiency, and collective spirit.
The XXIX Olympiad was China's
return to the global stage and the debut of its 6 billion residents who make up
20% of the world's population.
importantly, the Games will be remembered for the feats performed by the
planet's finest physical specimens. From Phelps to tiny tumblers Shawn Johnson
and Nastia Liukin
to basketball's Redeem
Team and countless others—the modern greats of world sport added a
catalogue of memories to Olympic history's storied chronicles.
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