Everyone watched the Opening Ceremonies wondering if Vancouver would try and top Beijing in spectacle. To be sure, it would be a tall task. Between the drums, scrolls, and flying people, not to mention the differences in budget and levels of talent of the artistic directors, it would be almost impossible to do. So Vancouver never even tried. By most objective criteria, Vancouver’s Opening Ceremonies paled in comparison to Beijing’s. This does not mean that the Opening Ceremonies were bad, they were just different.
Perhaps the differences begin with the cultural differences between China and Canada. China is a giant nation filled with people. Its history is rife with violence and aggression. Its government believes it is the greatest nation of the world and seeks to constantly emphasize its dominant qualities. Canada is very different. While it is a giant nation in terms of land mass, it has fewer people in it than the state of California. There is no history of violence in Canada. The people are kind but deferential. Whereas Chinese culture could be described as aggressive and dominating, Canada’s may better be described as quiet and reserved. The leaders of Canada had to implore their citizens to show enthusiasm and competitive spirit for these games, knowing this was contrary to their nature.
So we wound up with an Opening Ceremonies that did not strive for the aggression and raw power of Beijing. They chose to go with something quieter, gentler, friendlier. Something that better spoke to the cultural aspirations of the host country, not to any manufactured pressure to be better than every host country before it. For this they should be commended, even if what they produced was a little bit boring.
There were still some very cool moments to what went on last night. The video of the snow-boarder going down the giant slope was awesome. Bringing back Bryan Adams was a hoot. And how cool was it to see Bobby Orr again? Anytime you can get Bobby Orr, Steve Nash, and Wayne Gretzky together for one thing, you’re doing something right.
My friend pointed out that the Olympics are different from other sports because there’s very little money to be made in any of the events (hockey being the exception). This means that the athletes train and perform for no reason other than love of sport and a desire to show off what they and their countries can do. This training without monetary reward is honorable, and it imbues the Olympics with a sense of camaraderie that replaces the sense of rivalry found in other sports. This is not to say that athletes don’t compete. But the hatred that is so common to sports, especially among sports fans (think Red Sox-Yankees), is just not there in the Olympics. Everything is a little bit kinder, a little bit more in the spirit of togetherness. I’ve said before how sports bind communities and rivalries emerge out of a societal need to create an “other” to define oneself against. Well, the “other” in the Olympics is just a different country, and that is too large a concept to define oneself against. Hence this self-definition goes away in lieu of a group definition. We are all of one world, and this is the best our world has to offer. The purest.
So it’s with that in mind that I watch these Olympic games. Every competition is comprised of people from different parts of the globe, yes. But every competitor is essentially the same. They have the same drives and motivations. They carry the same expectations upon their shoulders. And they compete knowing the reward waiting for them is not monetary, but rather just the knowledge of being the best there is at what they do. So until next time: U.S.A.! U.S.A.!