The biggest event of every Olympics that isn't Men's Floor Gymnastics, is of course the Opening Ceremonies. The Opening Ceremonies are sort of like a longer Super Bowl half time show, only featuring a few more children of the world wearing bright primary colors. Also there's usually no aging rock artist performing a medley of their biggest hits. Every opening ceremony also has a theme, usually something wishy-washy, like "Achieve" or "Bloating." The theme this year was: "China is Awesome, Bitches." First, every single segment of the ceremony featured thousands upon thousands of dancers moving in perfect lockstep. The sheer quantity of performers underlined the fact that no-one's as good at throwing thousands of Chinese people at a problem like the Chinese are. On top of that, several of the dances and segments boasted of great inventions the Chinese are evidently laying claim too, like fireworks, bamboo, and children.
Along with their prodigious own-horn-blowing, the Chinese have also set out to ensure that these Olympics will have the best atmosphere ever, and have been providing locals with cheering lessons. Evidently officials were worried that the traditionally reserved Chinese fans would dampen the mood of the games. I found this surprising, as everything I've heard about Chinese audiences suggests they can’t watch sports without screaming and clenching betting slips in their fists.
In terms of the actual sports, the biggest story to date is probably the American swim team beating the French in one of the thousands of swimming events that have taken place. This was more than just a typical heartwarming, fuck-the-French story that always gets a lot of airplay every Olympics - prior to the race, the star French swimmer, who I'm imagining had an unlit Gitane dangling loosely from the side of his mouth at the time, taunted the American swimmers, and promised that the French would smash them. This incident naturally got most Americans pretty riled up, and is believed to be what precipitated the only known instance of Bob Costas screaming "Eat my ass France!" on network television.
Also, what the fuck is up with the ridiculous number of swimming events? Do we really need all these strokes? Just to recap, there's the fast way to swim, and three slow ways. Why do they all get a dozen medaled events each? There aren't separate medals for throwing javelins with your off-hand or bobsledding while half in the bag, so why the swimmers get hundreds of extra medals for swimming slowly is beyond me. Imagine the 100 meter sprint, only every competitor had to use a different funny walk from that old Monty Python sketch, and the whole thing is set to banjo music. That's basically what the 100m butterfly looks like to me.
The main concern from before the games, the possibility of protesters bringing both their terrible odors and great shame to China, hasn't been much of an issue yet. I gather there's been a few smallish protests, but no major brou-ha-has. The biggest worry for the Chinese was the possibility of an athlete with a protest sign or waving a Tibetan flag during the Opening Ceremonies. It didn’t happen, so we’ll never know how the Chinese would have reacted to it, but I’d like to imagine 30 guys dressed like this falling upon a Norwegian cyclist and just kicking his guts in.
The feeling of these games are quite different from any others I can recall. With the boastful opening ceremonies, the micromanaged cheering, the 40 or 50 gold medals China had already won as I write this, and the nervous energy underlying everything else, one gets the impression that as far as the Chinese are concerned, these Olympics are the most important thing to ever happen to them. It’s their sweet sixteen, their first kiss, and their senior prom all rolled into one. They’re wearing a dress they sewed themselves, and Freddie Prinze Jr. is crossing the room towards them. China, you’ll be a woman soon…