I love the Olympics – always have, always will. I will cover them as a journalist some day, and until then I’ll happily watch on TV.
The Olympics bring the entire planet together. No other sporting event accomplishes that, not even the World Cup (does Lesotho or Tuvalu really give a shit about the World Cup?), and maybe nothing outside of sports does that, either.
The Games of the XXX Olympiad (a.k.a the 2012 Summer Olympics) began Friday night with the Opening Ceremony. Here are my five thoughts on the event.
5) London’s Opening Ceremony: more art, less intimidation than Beijing’s. The 2008 Opening Ceremony was all about intimidation. Electronically unrolling video scrolls, 2008 drummers all in perfect unison, sideways-running aerial torch-lighters – all of that was China’s way of saying, “Look at how much better we are than all of you? Who else could do this?”
Artistic director Danny Boyle couldn’t match the technological achievements of 2008 (though I loved the aerial rings), but he also rejected its mentality. Instead, his 2012 Opening Ceremony depicted England as a driving force of the Industrial Revolution, a breeding ground for so many rock stars, a producer of some of the most iconic characters in children’s literature (from Peter Pan to Harry Potter). Really, only a TARDIS was missing, and I guess Boyle lumped all of Britain’s pop culture together into James Bond.
Everything about the 2008 Opening Ceremony seemed scary, off-putting, maybe even garish. The 2012 Opening Ceremony seemed welcoming, charming. At-times pastoral (or old-fashioned), but always inclusive. Boyle showed England’s place in the world, whereas Zhang Yimou showed China’s place above it.
And Boyle’s copper leaves forming the Olympic cauldron looked absolutely stunning.
4) Awesome, awesome soundtrack. No country has advanced pop music and rock ‘n roll like the United Kingdom. The Opening Ceremony took viewers through the entire history of British rock, and Boyle absolutely crushed his setlist.
My favorite two moments: the Arctic Monkeys covering “Come Together,” and Pink Floyd’s “Brain Damage” playing over a montage of famous Olympic moments. The first tied together the absolute zenith of British rock (the Beatles) with a great representative of England’s modern music scene, and the latter was a perfectly synched group of lyrics and images.
But can we please, please make “Hey Jude” go away? Its lyrics suck, its structure is even worse, and Paul McCartney only keeps singing it because a) it’s the only Beatles song he can still sing remotely well, and b) all of the rest of his songs suck even more.
I understand McCartney had to be in a London-based Olympics, but did we all need to hold hands and sing along to his shitty, stupid song? Wasn’t David Bowie available?
3) I can’t wait for two weeks of Bob Costas! After the world unification and the athletes and their stories, my next favorite thing about the Olympics is Bob Costas. No one else would – or could – make a joke like “Here comes Uganda. Winston Churchill once called Uganda, ‘The Pearl of Africa.’ But then, Churchill never met Idi Amin.”
More than any other journalist out there, Costas seems most in touch with sports, at their core, as a form of entertainment. If you can’t have fun with them, what’s the point?
My favorite Costas story: a bigwig at whatever major network Costas was at at the time calls Costas into his office. The guy tells Costas that everyone loves Costas’ work, but they think he looks too boyish on TV. They ask him if growing a beard would make him look older.
“Yeah, by about five years,” Costas says.
“Really, that much?” the exec asks.
“Yeah, cause that’s how long it would take me to grow a beard,” Costas replies.
2) More U.S. female athletes than males? Eff yeah! Not the only sports news of the year represented by Roman numerals, the 2012 Olympics began just a month after the 40th anniversary of Title IX. While Title IX’s equal access requirements applied to many areas of education, it most famously led to the massive growth of girls’ sports over the following 40 years. And what better way to show just how effective Title IX was then by, for the first time, the U.S. Olympic delegation featuring more female athletes than male athletes?
America might have taken too long in figuring out that girls are just as capable of the competitive fire and work ethic needed to be an elite athlete, but once our lawmakers figured that out, they absolutely got it right with Title IX. Young girls now have a myriad of top-tier athletic role models to choose from, in every sport from volleyball to basketball to boxing.
1) Sebastian Coe rocked his speech.
While I watch every minute of the pageantry of the Opening Ceremony, I normally tune out the Olympic organizing committee guy’s speech. It’s usually pretty boring, cliched and sometimes difficult to understand (see: Athens). But Sebastian Coe didn’t waste his few moments in the spotlight, giving a stirring, heart-warming, powerful speech.
“There is a truth to sport, a purity, a drama, an intensity, a spirit that makes it irresistible to take part in and irresistible to watch,” said Coe. If I didn’t believe that will all my heart and soul, I wouldn’t be in this business.
“One day, we will tell our children and our grandchildren, when it came to our turn, we got it right,” said Coe.
So far, so good.