Monday, August 25, 2008

Life After the Olympics

On August 24th, the Beijing Olympics drew to a grand close with another glorious display of choreography, fireworks, singing & dancing artistes, and a London double-decker bus. It brought an end to sixteen days of almost continuous live TV telecasts which had given us all much nail-biting excitement. Day after day we had cheered and groaned as our sporting heroes won or lost in events ranging from gymnastics to swimming, badminton to track & field, basketball to table tennis ...

At the conclusion, the top of the official medal tally table (taken from the official Olympic website) read as follows:

China: 51 gold, 21 silver, 28 bronze, total=100
USA: 36 G, 38 S, 36 B, total=110
Russia: 23 G, 21 S, 28 B, total=72
Britain: 19 G, 13 S , 15 B, total=47
Germany: 16 G, 10 S, 15 B, total=41

That ranking seems quite straightforward, doesn't it? That's what I thought too, until I heard about some alternative rankings that some other countries were putting out, which reflected a very different ranking sequence - often favouring the country where the creative ranking chart originated. I could grudgingly accept creative rankings by "Gold Medals per Capita" which has Jamaica on top, or "Gold Medals per GDP" which puts Zimbabwe on top (which may say more about its failed economy than anything else). But when you get US created rankings based on so-called Theories of Relativity, which effectively says that the US athletes brought home more gold medals than the China athletes because they won in more team events and therefore more individual American athletes received golds than their China competitors, I think that's just going a bit far ! Sounds like we have some sore losers in our midst.

Moving away from just the medal tally and looking at the significance of the Beijing Olympic Games as a whole, the media has frequently remarked that this Olympics is China's "coming of age" party. China's leadership has been keen to be the host, not simply because of the auspicious 08.08.08 starting date, but because it was an opportunity to prove that the Middle Kingdom had "arrived", and had the ability to welcome the world to this high-profile, infrastructure-heavy mega-event.

Prior to the Games beginning, there were many concerns voiced by world media and sporting teams - pollution in the air, algae in the water, quality of the venues, logistics, security etc etc. None of the concerns came to anything. And when it came to the Closing, there was really no need for all that ultra-careful political superlative that IOC president Jacques Rogge resorted to in describing the Games - "truly exceptional" he said. What does that even mean? To me, and most others I know, the Beijing Olympics 2008 was the best ever. Period.

Of course the China government invested a huge amount in preparing for the Games. Estimates have put it in excess of US$ 43 billion. There will be some who criticize the spending of such a vast amount on a mere sporting event. But I think that beyond the immense "China branding" benefits of the Games, if the infrastructure benefits Beijing society in years to come, it would have been money well spent. In any case it's considerably better than the trillions splurged on missiles and bombs and planes in senseless wars in other people's territories. But that's another debate for another day.

Still, with all the current euphoria it is easy to forget that China's biggest achievement is not so much in putting on these Olympic Games, impressive as they may be, but rather its greatest feat has been in lifting millions of people out of poverty over the past twenty years.

Finally how has the US reacted to the Beijing Olympics? Congratulations to them of course for the fantastic performance of their athletes. But taking a look at the significance of the whole event ... There have been references to the Beijing Olympics as the so-called "Sputnik moment" for the US? You know that time in 1957 when the Russians launched the first satellite, thus waking up the Americans and causing them to pursue space research with added vigour. How should the US respond to the phenomena of the Beijing Olympics 2008? I thought Tom Friedman's recent opinion piece in the New York Times was quite thoughtful.

As for me, the end of the Beijing Olympics has certainly brought a lull in my leisure (read TV watching) time. It has been an unforgettable sixteen days. What to do now? Well, last weekend we did go out and buy ourselves a table-tennis set, complete with the net, for a spot of ping pong smashing across the dining table. London 2012 here we come ;-) Beyond that, I guess it's back to work ... and, there's always my blog for entertainment ....


Anonymous said...

World view of China & China's interaction with the world has been changed forever with the Olympics.

Anonymous said...

There are many lessons from Beijing Olympics for Singapore as it prepares for the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in 2010. /Jon