Friday, August 22, 2008

The Games!

The Olympic Games themselves have been riveting!

I came here only expecting to see the Cycling Track race at the Laoshan Velodrome. But I've actually managed to catch an additional five events. Each of the events have been really exciting.

The first event I was able to catch was Women's Basketball. Latvia and Brazil (my other home country) duked it out and remained w/in 4 points of each other for the entire second half. Unfortunately, Brazil lost the lead in the final few minutes and then lost by one point when Latvia made a winning basket w/ 15 seconds left! Though Brazil lost, the game got me super stoked to see more.

After watching China's Women B-ball Team dominate New Zealand, I left at the half to transport myself halfway across the city to catch Men's Field Hockey on time.

It was Canada versus Pakistan in field hockey.

I sat next to the Canadian team member's families. They were super rowdy and into it, but little did they know, I was actually rooting for Pakistan. hehe.

Pakistan held it down, controlled the ball, played some serious defense, and beat Canada 3-1. Go Pakistan!
It's always nice to see the little, developing, so-called "third world," less-wealthy countries beat the developed wealthy ones.
Canada is pretty nice and all, but how often do you get to see some rad Pakistani athletes tear shit up?

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(Two Pakistani fans proudly display their country's flag shortly after the win).

Shortly after I took the above picture someone jumps down some stairs behind a railing and yells to me, "Yo! What are you doing here?!" It was my buddy Santiago from a Globalization & Social Development class I took at my school over a year ago! Crazy! Small world, huh?

I went about a few days w/o seeing another event in person. I was waiting until the Cycling Track Velodrome race. As I mentioned earlier, my buddy Kareem flew into Beijing the night before, so it was cool to mob the 'drome in force.

The all-wood velodrome track was quite a site. We had some good seats and proceeded to take advantage of the 5 RMB/yuan (approximately 80 US cents) Tsing Tao beers.

The one-on-one style racing was cool but I particularly enjoyed the Team Pursuit category, where teams of four start out on opposite sides of the track and try to catch each other.

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(Netherlands, in pursuit of France).

The next day we ended up getting some tickets to Ping Pong aka Table Tennis (btw, after finding a hotel that sells tickets for cheap, the avg. we spent on a ticket was $15 US).
We hopped on the subway and headed to Peking Univ. to get all Ping Ponged out. Ping Pong was seriously, quite possibly, the most exciting game to watch.

Players came from Brazil, Argentina, Korea, Nigeria, Croatia, Egypt, Australia, China, Taiwan, Singapore and more.

Kareem was especially stoked to see Egypt (the country of origin of one of his parents) play France. Though Egypt lost, it was awesome that Kareem was the only person in the stands rep'n' Egypt and shouting some supportive Egyptian slogans.
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We started a pro-Egypt chant in Mandarin Chinese which spread throughout the arena.
We also sat right behind the Egyptian player, Ali Saleh Ahmed. When the camera zoomed in on the concentrated Ahmed, there we were too, in the background, and in effect on the big screen. Kinda ridiculous. We may have been on Egyptian TV which is a kind of crazy thing to consider.

My favorite Ping Pong match was Portugal vs. Nigeria.
There were 6 Portugal expats all dressed up in country colors yelling constantly in support of their Portuguese ping-pongin' hero.
On the other hand, there were no explicitly pro-Nigerian fans, from Nigeria, rep'n it in the stands.
And that's not because Nigerians don't want to be there. I'm sure most of the country would love to be there. But due to global inequality and the fact that Nigeria is a country well below the poverty line, Nigerians can't afford to go. Many Portuguese, on the other hand, can.

Ironically, many European & Western countries, including Portugal, built their wealth by pillaging the resources of societies throughout Africa (including the land now known as Nigeria) and throughout the Americas, and Asia during the colonial-era and slave-trade.

So while many people try to argue that the Olympics are and should remain completely a-political and "only about sports," I don't think that's exactly possible.

History happened. And many people remember, or learn, about historic events that effect their people.

It's nice to have healthy nationalism at the Olympics; in fact, it's quite a beautiful site to see people stoked on their countries, in front of you, and not filtered through the media.

However, the global politics, sociology, and economics are right there, in the stands. The fact that there were 6 Portuguese and 0 Nigerians is an example of those three elements playing out.

(I think a good idea for the future would be to create a program that makes it easier for citizens of developing countries to visit the Olympics to cheer on their team and nation. Maybe NBC should fund and develop it. Afterall, they're bullying YouTube into strictly keeping all Olympics footage off the site. Doing so means that millions of poor people around the world, including many Nigerians, who can manage to access the internet will be denied the chance to watch their national heroes represent their struggling countries on the Olympics world stage. The people of Nigeria need the morale boost, which watching their heroes compete may offer, far more than NBC needs the additional profits that they think will be accrued by giving YouTube the middle finger...The idea needs the right people to make it happen.)

Now, back to Ping Pong: With the unfortunate under-representation of Nigerian fans, and the soundspace being occupied by Portuguese cheers, Kareem and I, some very loud dudes, sat behind the Portuguese and cheered as loudly as we could for Nigeria.

The game went back and forth, up and down, intensely, as did the cheering; which remained fun and in good spirit.

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(Nigeria's Segun Torialo takes a breath in this back n' forth scoring game)

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(Torialo serves to Portugal's Joao Montiero).

The rallies were sassy and the emotions were high. After both players wiped the sweat off their hands Nigeria's Torialo laid the heat on Portugal's Montiero to drop a crushing and winning hit! Nigeria won! Yeahhh!

What a match! Afterwards Torialo draped himself proudly in a Nigerian flag, waved to the crowd, now standing and clapping, and walked off smiling.

It was a good day.

The next day wasn't as romantic. Nevertheless, it was awesome.
I was able to get ahold of a ticket for BMX Cycling, BMX's first Olympic appearance ever.
Actually, another dude who said he came all the way from Vegas got a ticket from the same person and at the same time I did. So we rolled in together.
This dude was pumped! His name was Landon and he used to ride BMX back when he was a kid, he said. He also lived and surfed in Pacific Beach, San Diego "a long time ago" (i.e. probably early 80s). I believe it, 'cause he was still rockin the long hairdo straight outta that scene.
Hangin' out w/ Landon in the stands was like being at a Social Distortion concert and in a (late) David Lee Roth video at the same time!; except better...and w/ bikes.

He busted out a giant American flag and put two little American flags and a Chinese flag in his bmx-er/surfer, turned rock-out-all-nite-in-Vegas-hair. Landon actually made cheering "U S A" fun and funny.

This was the first event I went to where Americans did well. Mike Day, local Cali kid, came in first.
I saw him afterwards signing autographs for the dozens of Beijing locals surrounding him and I said "Congratulations, man." And he responded, "Thanks, man."

Another good day for the books.

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