About BTiell Sports Reports

Dr. Bonnie Tiell writes a monthly column for the Tiffin Advertiser Tribune Sports Department (http://www.advertiser-tribune.com/). This blog archives each column and dates back to the 2008 Olympic Academic Experience in Beijing, China. Check out the Blog Archives to read more. Check out info about the TU Olympic Academic Experience at http://www.tuolympics.blogspot.com/ and contact Dr. Tiell at btiell@tiffin.edu

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Aug 18, 2008 Beijing Olympics offered glitz, glory and empty seats

With the closing ceremonies days away, the International Olympic Committee has proclaimed the most expensive Olympic Games in history an official success despite mounting controversies, propaganda and logistical snafus. The Tiffin University Olympic Academic Experience also has been a success despite language barriers, transportation glitches, smog and occasional problems in obtaining brokered tickets.

Students are back on their home soil in their respective college towns preparing to begin fall classes. Each has unique perspectives of their scholarly study of the Olympics in Beijing, but all agree the cross continental trip has enriched their life experience in terms of culture and international sport.

Beijing's greatest asset

The people of China were well-trained to accommodate the world during their first opportunity to host the Olympics. "Please" and "Thank you for your cooperation" were probably the two most common phrases and smiles greeted visitors at every corner. Spectator security checks were routine and calm with volunteers that were appreciative, caring and respectful in requesting guests to lick a Pepto-Bismol tablet, chew their gum, take a photo of the ground, apply lip balm, or break the tip off a flag pole.

Many Chinese faces were excited to converse with westerners and wanted only to practice their English pronunciations. While true semantics often were lost in translation, the joy of bringing two distinct cultures together trumped any misinterpretation. The only Chinese nationals who had no interest in practicing English seemed to be the cab drivers.

Huge smiles were abundant in the crowded subways, the crowded busses, the crowded McDonald's, the crowded markets and the crowded streets. The young and old were courteous and persistent in offering up their personal bus seat when a westerner boarded. The only problem was the public vehicles often were large versions of a sardine can and at every stop, the driver tried to set a record for stuffing the greatest number of passengers into a bus.

Especially near Olympic venues, armies of volunteers were available for directions and service needs. Many volunteers marched liked military troops in straight-line formations with precision footsteps. The characteristic helpfulness reached far beyond the Olympic Green areas making it clearly apparent that Beijing's greatest asset has been its people.

The real Olympics

Smiling Chinese surveyors roamed around the venues asking spectators about their transportation arrangements, ticket arrangements and whether the 2008 Games are most recognizable as the Green Olympics, the High-tech Olympics, or the People's Olympics.
"Green Olympics" is almost a misnomer. Perhaps "green" was referring to the miles of green mesh used to blanket much of Beijing's rubble piles. Perhaps it referred to the receptacles for plastics that populated the venues and often were overflowing with trash. (Incidentally, hopefully London does a better job with concession food. It was difficult to survive on biscuits, ice cream, popcorn and an occasional noodle bowl which was typically sold out). The green reference was most likely referring to Beijing's efforts to clean their deplorable air pollution situation. Sure, Beijing shut down factories and significantly reduced the number of vehicles on the road, but the smog was heavy for all but two days of our two-week journey. In fact, it was the second to last day that we realized that beautiful mountains surrounded the city!

"High-tech Olympics" is another interesting connotation. Swimmers and runners still are competing at state-of-the-art facilities in which none can rival to date. The China Daily reported that technology allowed for more than 10,000 missiles to be fired in the sky to ward off rains that threatened the opening ceremonies. Digital imaging enhanced the fake display of fireworks resembling footsteps blazing over the Beijing skies during the high-tech ceremonies. Security and transit upgrades also signified advancements in technology, but the Internet age that changed ticket distribution operations from Athens to Beijing has not been without problems.
One of our students lost out on four precious track and field tickets to watch Usain Bolt in the 100-meter semifinals. He spent five hours navigating public transportation to find the obscure drop-off/pick-up spot, but a technical glitch transferred his tickets to another buyer and to date, he still has hundreds of dollars charged to his credit card. Instead, he joined another student who received suite tickets from Candace Parker to watch the U.S.A. vs. Spain women's basketball game.

The "People's Olympics" references the population of China which is inescapable, even in the venues. The People's Olympics certainly wasn't the case, however, at the make-up game for USA and Canada softball after two rain delays forced a reschedule. With the stands only half full for the first two games of the day, the venue announcers completely cleared the stadium except for the pocket of Canadian and U.S.A. families (and friends) that refused to leave. Kimmy and I had almost a private showing of U.S.A. softball while sitting with Cat Osterman's and Crystl Bustos's families behind home plate.

In the 112-year history of the Summer Games, the 2008 Olympics has been the first to sell-out, namely because there are so many Chinese who were passionate about the games and so many school children and workers that were provided free tickets. Still, scads of empty seats were apparent at almost all the events, and the reaction of the Chinese government was to round up even more public workers, dress them in yellow T-shirts and thunder sticks and cluster them into venues along with an official cheerleader. Many workers were required to watch DVDs on fan etiquette. The pockets of Chinese cheer groups provided quick bursts of noise and an air of neutrality. In fact, our favorite Chinese cheer section was at the handball venue where China wasn't even competing.

Considering the reality of the Olympics, none of the selected titles seem completely appropriate. "The Bird's Nest" and "Water Cube" are nicknames that fit the architectural structures representing imagery of the sky and water. There is no nickname to describe everything encompassing the Beijing Games.

Lessons for London

The Tiffin University Olympic Academic Experience will return to London in 2012. The students have vowed to create an alumni chapter to keep the memories alive. Hopefully, Great Britain can mirror the great ambition of the Beijing Olympics and learn from the logistical snafus. The IOC has sent hundreds of future games organizers from the Olympic Games Knowledge Management (OGKM) program to learn from the well-mannered efficiency in operations and the occasional logistical mistakes of the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee. Hopefully, London is sensitive in how to better manage world-wide ticket distribution.

Perhaps the major frustrations for the TU Olympic group were dealing with distances and language barriers in the daily routine of finding the location to pick up tickets and making it across Beijing to games using public transportation in a city of millions. Imagine the traffic of New York City or Chicago. Next, imagine the distances traveled such as beginning in Tiffin and taking a bus and subway to Columbus to pick up a ticket, then jumping in a taxi to make it to Sandusky for the first event, and walking 10 blocks to find a subway to take you to Mansfield for a second event of the day, only to have to call a translator to tell your final taxi driver how to take you back to Tiffin.

Beijing reflections

The economy and cultural beauty of China has been appealing. A visit to a famous hot springs resort (complete with baths to improve spleen health, lung health, organ health, balance and longevity) was the highlight of our final day in China. Designed for emperors and the imperial family of the Qing Dynasty, the Chinese therapeutic resort included graceful pavilions, villas, temples, a large lotus pond, rock formations, saunas, waterfalls, fountains, mineral baths, a six-lane 50-meter pool and plenty of bubbling springs. The array of massages available at about $8 U.S. each had us wishing we had made multiple visits to the springs located only 10 minutes from our residence.

Another example of the Beijing economy was the price of the Chinese local beer (Tsingtao) available at the Olympic venues for only five RMB, or the equivalent of 70 cents. Dehydration in the humid days and the lack of available ice made warm beer less appealing than the green tea or purified water available for only three RMB 45 cents. The highlight of the venues was definitely the Olympians and the unexpected thrills of elite competition, not the concession food.
The TU Olympic group's return to the states included an overnight layover in Toronto. It was refreshing to watch Phelps on television winning his unprecedented eighth gold medal and to find balanced coverage instead of repetitive broadcasts of Chinese-dominated competitions or repeats of the opening ceremonies. It also was refreshing to have plenty of ice and to be able to drink tap water.

The Beijing Olympics was an experience in sport politics, culture, globalization, technology, commercialization, capitalism, socialism and management. The TU Olympic Academic Experience in 2008 was part of history. We were shocked by the random violence on a fellow American, pleased with the hospitality and culture of China and exuberant in the thrill of meeting Olympians and their families.

It has been a pleasure to share the Olympic and Beijing experience with our hometown in Tiffin. Stay tuned in a few years when Tiffin University continues to promote its global presence by offering the next Olympic Academic Experience in London.

No comments:

Post a Comment