It is almost as hard for friends to meet,
As for the morning and evening stars.
Tonight then is a rare event.
China Daily Newspaper quoting Du Fu., Chinese Poet (712-770) of the Tang Dynasty
There is an Olympic ideal that for a short period of time every four years the world will stop fighting and come together in sport and in friendship. Of course as Russia and Georgia demonstrated that ideal is perhaps more illusion than reality. But after traveling around the country and spending 9 days in the Bird’s Nest, it sure seemed as if China had invited the world to visit after a long absence to renew old friendships.
Yes, China was determined to win more gold medals than any other country and it did just that. And yes, the room upstairs with the crazy uncle was off limits and we were not allowed to visit him. But otherwise the Chinese people were the perfect hosts extending a hand of friendship and offering help at every place we visited while proudly describing 5000 years of history and culture. As we explored, we were told if we were ever lost just open a map and look lost and someone would help. Sure enough, as we stood outside a Beijing subway stop unable to navigate the streets marked by signs in Chinese to find the Confucius Temple with our English language map, a bicyclist pulled out of the busy street long enough to give us directions.
But perhaps the explanation point came when the crowd at the Bird’s Nest began singing happy birthday to Jamaican Usain Bolt after he shattered the 200 meter world record to claim his second of three gold medals and world records. The affection between the Chinese and the Jamaican was no illusion. When Bolt responded by donating a large sum of money to the earth quake victims in Sichuan province there was clearly a little magic in the air. While training in the port city of Tianjin he had met a child in a wheel chair who had lost her legs during the quake and was given a painting of Chinese soldiers rescuing kids from under the rubble.
On the track the numbers suggested these games might well have produced the finest show ever. The numbers 8:58.81, 9.69, 19.30, 37.10 and 5.05 meters (16’6 ¾”) represent 5 world records – the women’s steeple, the men’s 100 meters, 200 meters and 4×100 meter relay and finally the women’s pole vault. Additionally there were at least 11 Olympic records set. Usain Bolt’s performances and charisma were clearly the story of track and field (and with the possible exception of Michael Phelps the Olympics), but the intense competitive spirit of the front-running Wilfred Bungei (800M) and Kenensia Bekele (5K and 10K), Yelena Isinbaeva (pole vault), Tirunesh Dibaba (5K and 10K), Shalane Flannigan (10K), Steven Hooker (pole vault) and Walter Dix kept the Bird’s Nest electric.
Off the track the performance was just as breath taking. From the opening ceremony to the efficient operation of the games, a gold standard was achieved. The intense national pride in these games was evident in the enormous capital investment, the stylish architecture and the unfailingly polite and helpful volunteers. The Olympic Green was lit up at night with dancing fountains and glowing buildings that included a four story tall television screen wrapped around one of the tallest office buildings in the area and served as a great landmark when we were lost. But in addition to the great performances, I think it is the warm welcome that will form the dominant memories of these games for me. I hope that the games bring China the confidence necessary to face the tough economic, political and environmental problems awaiting it with the same creativity, courage and compassion that marked its Olympic performance – that would make these games more reality than illusion.