Sunday, August 12, 2012

Farewell London Olympic Games

I haven't blogged much because the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London got my daily attention from the time I got home from work until I went to bed. I wanted to watch as many broadcasts as possible, even though it did not always mean seeing events that I wanted to see. NBC's coverage was shameful. They actually used the prime time coverage to debut some "sneak peeks" of new sitcoms debuting this fall. Seriously?!? I know that none of the events that I watched were live (due to time zone differences), but still...it was shameless. I only watched NBC for the Olympics. I honestly couldn't give a shit about their upcoming shitcoms. I don't watch TV shows on TV anyway. There are so many available on DVD now that I just pick a show through Netflix and watch an entire season in a couple weeks and then move on to the next season or another show. The great thing about watching shows on DVD is: no commercial breaks!

Also, I learned that NBC actually edited out of the Opening Ceremonies a tribute to the victims of the Subway / Underground bombings (I believe that it happened on July 7, 2007, but not sure). Seriously? The 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics had the flag that flew at the World Trade Center on 9/11 marched into the stadium (rubbing the world's nose in our tragedy) but we aren't interested in watching another nation's tribute to victims of their terrorist attacks? No wonder why the world thinks Americans are narcissistic assholes. We want the world to cry and sympathize with us on the worst day in our entire history but we can't be bothered to be compassionate to others when they want to make a respectful memorial.

Besides all that, I wasn't all that excited about the Olympics being in London...but that's mostly because Paris wanted it and should have won. But, as the Olympic date kept getting closer and closer, I actually did get a little bit excited. To me, the Summer Olympics are THE SPORTING EVENT to end all sporting events. I love watching them. I don't watch sports most of the time, but I will watch the Olympics religiously. Its funny to hear the blase comments from others about the Olympics. I have found that a lot of pro and college football fans seem to be the most disinterested in the Olympics. Too many foreigners, I think. But, I love all things international, so of course this is MUST SEE TV for me.

On Facebook, it was interesting to read the comments of others regarding the Opening Ceremonies. I was not on Facebook yet during the Beijing Olympics (I joined in November 2008 after several old classmates I hadn't heard from in 20 years begged me to sign up). It appears that the consensus is that the London Olympics Opening Ceremony is nowhere near as impressive as the Beijing one. I admit, Beijing went all out and truly wowed viewers with their sheer intensity. They kind of had to, as it was China's coming out party for the entire world and they wanted to impress people, which they did. 2008 drummers. The man who lit the torch was attached to a hire wire and "jogged" in the air around the entire stadium before lighting it. Yeah, all impressive stuff. However, I thought the Sydney Olympics in 2000 had the best Opening Ceremony and Cauldron lighting of all Olympic Games.

One of the things I find annoying is the belief that people have to outdo the last one (this applies to movies and novels, too) in order to be considered "successful." Why? Why is more and more a measure of "better"? Why can't we just sit back and enjoy? Each country has their own unique take on the Opening Ceremonies. It's the story they want to tell. Forget about the Beijing Opening Ceremonies and just watch what London offers.

The London Olympics hired a British film director (whose most famous film is Trainspotting) to produce the opening ceremonies. He used a bit of film to add some cleverness to the proceedings. The pageant began with Kenneth Branagh in a costume read a passage from a William Shakespeare play. There was a hill in the Olympic stadium. The set design looked like something out of Lord of the Rings (Hobbiton, anyone?). It gave way to the giant smokestacks of the Industrial Revolution, where a river of fire created the Olympic rings, which were raised into the air. A filmed skit featuring Daniel Craig as James Bond escorted Queen Elizabeth II to a waiting helicopter, where her stunt stand-in parachuted into the stadium. A group of school children sang the national anthem, "God Save the Queen" (better known as "My Country Tis of Thee" in the United States). There were orphans and nurses in an interesting tribute to Britain's National Health Service, along with storybook tributes to Mary Poppins, Peter Pan, and Harry Potter. The least interesting part of the ceremonies was the Facebook / Twitter romance between two young lovers, set to a music medley from each decade.

The parade of athletes is always my favorite part. I love seeing the different costumes and the enthusiasm of the young athletes. The cauldron involved some interesting pyrotechnics and featured Soccer star David Beckham cruising down the Thames River in a speedboat. There was also a tribute to the film Chariots of Fire with the music being played by Mr. Bean (one of the unfunniest actors / characters ever devised). I had wondered if the theme music from that awesome film (about British athletes vying for the 1924 Olympic team, which was held in Paris). I can't stand Mr. Bean at all, so it was just a groaner of a skit.

What I noticed was that the entire Opening Ceremonies was a tribute to all the things that Britain contributed to the world. It was a great tribute and while it did not have the in your face intensity of the Beijing opening ceremonies, I thought the London one actually had more depth. I had felt while watching it that the ceremonies were more meaningful than the commentators were letting on. When the song "Jerusalem" was sung, I was struck by its familiarity. At work, I listened to a classical music CD that the company I work for put out (The Ultimate Last Night of the Proms), which features this tune. I thought it was weird that a song entitled "Jerusalem" was featured on a CD about English music, so I read Wikipedia entry on it. The song was taken from a William Blake poem about England being the site of a "New Jerusalem", as there were myths that Jesus had traveled to that distant green land. The poem / song also talks about the Industrial Revolution being evil. It truly is quite symbolic and "Jerusalem" is often considered the United Kingdom's unofficial National Anthem (kind of like how "America the Beautiful" is considered an unofficial National Anthem in the USA). So, if you truly want to "understand" the symbolic meaning behind London's Opening Ceremonies, read that Wikipedia entry and you will get it. All I can say is, "WOW!" As for me, yeah, the Chinese can wow us with magic tricks and in your face intensity, but I love the subtle yet deeply symbolic tribute to England's history and mythologies. It actually sparked an interest in me to vacation in England again some day (my travel experiences include a 3 week road trip through England, Scotland and Wales as a teenager in 1987 on the best family vacation ever; and a single day when I flew from Gibraltar to London to hop on a train to Canterbury and then to Dover to catch the ferry to Calais, France in 1993).

The games had plenty of great moments. America had the best swim team ever. Wow. Not only did Michael Phelps add more medals to his previous totals, but other team members also won medals, too. Ryan Lochte is definitely a charismatic star and plans to go to Rio de Janeiro in four years. Phelps now has 22 Olympic medals, 18 of them gold. The most decorated Olympian ever, and despite his mother's claim, Phelps says that this is his final Olympics (he's been to Sydney, Athens, Beijing, and now London).

The women's gymnastics team won the team gold and Gabrielle became the first African American to win the All Around. The men's gymnastics team was disastrous, though. Gymnastics are my favorite event. When I was in the 2nd grade, my parents enrolled me in gymnastics, but I never took an interest in it. I kind of wish that I was interested in it, because it does look like a lot of fun, though definitely not easy. The floor exercises are amazing.

The real meat and potatoes of the Olympic Games are the track and field events. This covered the final week of the games. The American athletes always do well at these events, but this year, a Jamaican runner, Usain Bolt, became "the fastest man alive." And he broke a speed record. It's amazing that humans can still break athletic records. In fact, on Facebook, someone posted a chart that showed the medal winning times for each Olympic Games and the runners are definitely getting faster and faster. The winner of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Jesse Owens, would've been left in the dust by Usain Bolt. Now that's insane!

Above is a scene from the filmed skit that featured Daniel Craig as James Bond, escorting Her Royal Highness, Queen Elizabeth II, from her Buckingham Palace quarters to the waiting helicopter to fly her to the Olympic Stadium to parachute into the stadium. It was pretty funny and increased the Queen's coolness factor. She's on a role lately, after the Diamond Jubilee back in June (celebrating her 60th year on the throne. Only 3 more to surpass Queen Victoria's record).

The one-eyed monstrosity you see above is the official mascot of the London Olympics. Ever since Atlanta debuted "Whatizit?" at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games closing ceremony, the subsequent mascots have been rather lame. This one-eyed monstrosity looks like a penis, in my opinion. Its about as lame as the official Olympic logo (which quite a few people think is of Lisa Simpson giving some guy a blow job. You have to see the animated gif yourself to realize it, but you'll never go back to seeing it as "2012").

The closing ceremonies are never as good as the opening one, but it's mostly one big party for the athletes. I actually liked the London closing ceremonies. They made the ramps look like the Union Jack and featured a lot of different singers, a traffic jam, and the Spice Girls even "reunited" to sing a couple songs ("Wannabe" and the one I hate: "Spice Up Your Life"). Take That performed "Rule the World" (I had hoped for "Greatest Day" or "Never Forget") and Sir Paul McCartney sang, as well, just as he did for the Opening Ceremonies. When the flame was extinguished, the show was over. And best of all, there were no terrorist attacks as some worried about. What I love about the Closing Ceremonies is that the next host city gets a segment in which to offer a sneak peek at what they will offer the games, and Brazil definitely went with the Carnival theme. I cannot wait until Rio de Janeiro. Wouldn't it be awesome if wealth found me sometime in the next four years so I can go down to Rio and attend the Olympics as a fan. I would love to see Rio de Janeiro some day and being there for the Olympics sounds pretty awesome. Until then, we have a Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia in less than two years and a World Cup in Brazil.

Great job for 2012, Great Britain! You kept calm and carried on. You did the Olympics proud.

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