Friday, August 15, 2008

Olympic Observations

Before listing the quirks we discovered it should be said that we were excited to be at the Olympics and had a great time watching sports we knew nothing about-quickly becoming expert commentators. We attended men's and women's gymnastics, fencing, wrestling, table tennis, beach volleyball, judo and water polo. The venues were well done with plentiful squatty potties and a surplus of volunteers. Visitors were well behaved and supportive of all the athletes with a bias towards extra "jiayo's" for the Chinese athletes. We learned water polo is a vicious sport, wrestling wins or losses can literally be determined by a random draw, and beach volleyball feels like a frat party.

We were, however, glad to get out of Beijing. Besides it being a big, hot, noisy city, there was a sense of tension that was discomforting. Perhaps it was the ever present police and armed troops or the endless security checks. Even more concerning was the inconsistency of these security checks at different venues.

We were also glad that we are healthy, heat tolerant and good walkers. We spent at least 2 hours each day on crowded buses or subways simply getting to the outskirts of the venues. From there add another one or two hours walking to or between venues and standing in security lines. We were frustrated at maps that showed a key subway station which was in fact closed and the lack of easy transportation between venues. Having spent a year in China we recognize that improvements that were no doubt made to the city transportation system, but felt that many people likely defaulted to taxis given the challenges of negotiating the public system even though all buses and subways were free if you held event tickets on that day.

Our biggest frustration was the food. The Beijing Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games (BOCOG) did well by their sponsors including McDonalds and Coca-cola. Outside food and drink were banned from any venue. Once inside the Olympic Green your only food choices were McDonalds (two of them, spaced widely apart) and snack stands featuring Coke, water, OJ, Fanta Orange soda, popcorn, chips, Snickers bars and a sugared fruit cup. If you spent 6 or 7 hours a day on the Green as we often did, food stress was a reality. The areas around the Olympic green were emptied for security reasons so leaving the area for food was not an easy or close option. The contrast between the health and fitness of the athletes and the horrid food choices available to spectators was laughable.

Overall though, our 5 days were memorable and successful. And now we can enjoy the close up action on TV with the rest of the world!

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