Chris is blogging on the WSJ China Journal
Five days into the Games now, the Olympic spirit among all the athletes here is definitely palpable. With the performances over the last few days by the swimming, fencing, and shooting teams the United States is off to a great start, and with medals being won by teams overcoming last minute obstacles such as the bronze in the men’s team gymnastics… I know that there is only more good to come.
For most athletes though here at the Olympics, watching these events is a pretty similar experience for us as it is for most Americans. Seeing that we’re usually resting in our rooms between competition heats, semi’s and finals, we all tend to watch most of the other sports on TV just like the rest of the world. Many times a high-profile event will begin with a bunch of us huddled into one room jostling for the best viewing seat and end with us all standing on furniture cheering (e.g. losing our voices as Jason Lezak staged his ridiculously impressive comeback to win the men’s 100m freestyle relay). So while at some point we’ll all do our own thing here in Beijing as competitors, it’s a very cool feeling to know that at the same time we’re all part of a larger U.S. fan base about 300 million strong.
One detail that does differ for us viewers here in China, however, is that virtually all Olympic television coverage is in Chinese. In fact, the only two channels that we receive in English are CNN and BBC. Therefore, it is when I switch to one of those two stations for a brief reprieve from the indiscernible Chinese commentary that I’m graphically reminded that not all the world is currently sharing in the peace and unity of these Olympics.
Nothing to me serves as a more serious reminder of this than what I’ve seen daily concerning the tragic events which have transpired on the Russian-Georgian border. It’s seeing something like this taking place, despite the years and years of dedication we’ve all put into getting ourselves to these Games, that very quickly puts everything back into perspective. At the same time however, watching as the Olympic spirit perseveres through such conflict reminds me again of what these Games are all about.
It was nothing short of inspirational to watch first-hand as the athletes from both the Russian and Georgian federations decided to remain in Beijing to fulfill their nation’s athletic hopes, while simultaneously allowing their presence to serve as a promotion of peace. Furthermore, nothing could have symbolized this gesture of peace better than when on Sunday morning at the women’s 10m air-pistol competition Russian silver medalist, Natalia Paderina, shared the podium with Georgian bronze medalist Nino Salukvadze. The world watched as the two competitors embraced as friends.
To me, this was a defining moment of the 2008 Olympics.
Too often in the recent past the Olympics have been scarred by politics. Yet the courage and spirit of these athletes to continue on in the face of what must be incredible pressure and stress from home reminds me of the message of hope that the Olympics still sends.
Since its inception, the modern Olympics have always had the mission of promoting peace through athletics. So while channel surfing on the TV here in Beijing still reminds me that the world is far from a utopia, it’s this ability to change the channel and witness what athletes are doing here that also demonstrates how much more the Olympics are about than just sports.