AND on and on and on it goes. As I write this, the opening ceremony for the Beijing Olympics still hasn’t finished. (The Poland team has just entered the stadium.) At this rate, they will be done just in time for the closing ceremony to start.
“If you’re watching this and wondering whose fault it is that we have all of these athletes walk into the stadium,” said BBC TV commentator Hazel Irvine, “it’s ours. London 1908 was the first time the Olympics featured a parade of all the athletes in the stadium.”
There will be 10,000 of them competing in China over the next fortnight. Some of them have started already; the men’s and women’s football tournaments have already been under way for a couple of days, with the main highlights created by some unbelievably bad refereeing.
(And I don’t mean the sort of mildly controversial refereeing decisions that managers whine about on Match Of The Day to cover an embarrassing defeat. I mean decisions of the sort there used to be in my local junior league when the referee didn’t turn up and the home manager ended up doing the job instead. Not that I’m suggesting the referees at the Olympics are biased. Some of their decisions have been far too random for that.)
But, football tournaments aside, today is the start of the 29th Olympiad. (A start that is still going on even though I’m now into my fifth paragraph. The Tunisia team are walking into the stadium now. My favourites so far have been the Timor-Leste team, which consists of precisely two athletes, who looked rather isolated in such a large crowd.)
There was a lot of speculation beforehand about what the opening ceremony might consist of. As the number eight is considered lucky in China, the timing of the ceremony’s start – 8pm local time on 08-08-2008 – was significant. I thought that maybe we might have had 808 State performing an eightsome reel on a stage of 888 After Eight mints laid out in a figure of eight. Or failing that, an army of mysterious figures in blue tracksuits attempting to stop protestors attacking Konnie Huq.
What we got instead was spectacular and surreal. We got a cast of thousands performing dance routines so colourful, complex and visually striking that you can guarantee some advertising executive in Docklands is already planning to filch the idea for a bank commercial.
Zhang Yimou, the man who directed the visually-stunning House Of Flying Daggers, spent three years designing the ceremony. By the end of it, I felt exhausted. If I tell you that the opening part of the ceremony culminated in Sarah Brightman singing in Mandarin standing atop a giant globe which had risen out of the ground, it probably gives you an idea of just how epic the whole thing was. Over on ITV, meanwhile, was Loose Women, Dickinson’s Real Deal and an Inspector Morse repeat.
(Up to paragraph ten now, and entering the stadium we have the athletes of Micronesia, a country I have never heard of. And I’ve got a degree.)
Should the Olympics even be in Beijing, given the concerns over the smog and the protests over China’s human rights record? Would I have been allowed to write this blog had I been in Beijing rather than Manchester? Possibly not, in both cases.
But the International Olympic Committee has a long history of making curious decisions. And there have been, despite the protests, no boycotts.
The politicking is over; the Games are ready to begin. Or at least they will be, once this blinking ceremony is over.
And now, into the stadium, comes the Nauru team, which consists of one athlete: the weightlifter Itte Detenamo. Curiously, there are six people in their group. Who are the other five, and what do they do? Polish his weights? Keep him company?
Maybe we’ll find out over the next two weeks. I seriously thought the ceremony would finish before I got to the end of this post. Let’s hope it’s finished by the time you’ve got to this paragraph, or we really will be in trouble.