Olympic musings: China’s fake opening ceremonies, etcetera

April 4, 2012


by Tola Adenle

[With another Olympics around the corner, I present two essays from around the last Olympics.  TOLA]

Regular readers of this column know I’m a sports fan and my interests are as varied as eclectic.  While I may take my eyes off boxing when it gets nasty – my better-half would not allow the tv to be turned off – the only really turn-off in sports are wrestling and Australian-style rugby.  I’ve watched enough regular rugby to know that the power houses of the game are in the Southern Hemisphere: New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Argentina but it’s New Zealand’s All Blacks’ pre-game antics that have made the national team my favorite.

The Olympics had always represented kid-in-a-candy-shop opportunity for me until this last one.  As the athletics pro tour got under way in the Spring, I knew something was amiss when I would skip the sports channel that showcased the prowess of stars of track and field but it was not difficult to figure that drug-enhanced athletes seemed to have become to weary sports enthusiasts like me the mythical grinch who stole Christmas.  Marion Jones, the wonder woman of two Olympics ago was doing time in an Uncle Sam’s Big House; Gatlin, the American sprinter remained banned; ditto the Greek doped-out “sprinter” Katerina Thanou, whose running style at the Athens Games four years ago amazed the way she resembled one of those mechanical “females” in advertising and movies. They had all managed to do what staying up several nights in a row when the games were in different time zones could not do:  wean me off a beloved pastime.

The stars of track and field first captured my imagination back in the late 50s and 60s when I came across old copies of a brother’s World Sports, through which I became aware of athletic greats like Emil Zatopek, Australian Beth Cuthbert, et al. Zatopek, of course, was the Czech who had won many gold medals in the middle distances from the late 40s to mid 50s, and was the first to run a 10K  in under 29 minutes and the first to run 20K in one hour.  I would later be a monthly purchaser of the magazine from a vendor of international publications in front of the old Leventis Stores, Ibadan. Here at home, the exploits of Caleb Adamolekun (early 50s), Erinle, A.K. Amu, (50s), Floretta Eyo (Later Obaseki, 50s) got me very interested in sports.

Watching the World Cup and Olympics on television, therefore, was always a passion since I first watched the World Cup back in 1966.  It should be easy to imagine the sense of loss I felt when the last Olympics came without arousing anticipation or much interest.  In spite of misgivings, though, I still managed to take in the last of the 100m heats for both men and women and saw Usain Bolt ran that incredible race during which his last ten meters or so showed a deceleration due to celebration.  I also watched the equally unbelievable final for the record books that is captured in a photo finish that shows nothing less than five feet between him and the silver medalist.  I’m keeping a clipping of the newspaper with the hope that it never gets overturned for doping.

I did watch a lot of gymnastics although the Chinese’ win-at-any-cost approach managed to cast a shadow on the beautiful sports by her fielding underage girls whose level of fear is generally lower than older girls which would enable a performer to do better.  Needless to say that the allegation of declaration of ages seem more credible than the explanations by the Chinese authorities as evident by documents that show girls having suddenly gained a couple of years miraculously to ensure they qualify to compete.  What do the Chinese care if a few girls develop physiological problems later in life as long as China gains laurels and national pride NOW just as the country seems to lose more people per capita these days in mine accidents than any country on earth?  A slip of a girl has now blamed the age discrepancy on a “slip of tongue”.  What a disgrace!

Still on China’s ruthless fakery is the little matter of having a talented little girl sing at the opening ceremonies while a “better looking” little girl got the glory.  The “ugly girl” – like Debbie Reynolds in Singing in the Rain – was hidden from view while the “pretty girl” just like the hair head in the movie was in view while the hidden girl sang like an angel. China’s fakery did not end with lip-synching, as the world was later to find out.  The whole spectacular Opening Ceremonies did not ACTUALLY happen the way we saw it on tv.  While the seeming millions of people for various performances were real, the fireworks were as real as Made in China spare parts sold in Nigeria, The world later learnt they were computer-generated.

I also took in some of the swimming events and I must confess I was more awed by the performance of the South African young woman amputee who completed the 10k women’s swimming in two hours, placing 16th than with the eight gold by America’s Phelps, record-breaking as the achievement is.

Isinbayeva, the gymnast-turned pole-vaulter has now broken so many world records – twenty-four at last count – that her child-like celebrations of each new record is still a joy to watch.  In fact, I have a feeling that the young lady is DOLING the records to us because each time she scales those incredible vaults, the heights she attains show there’s a lot left where those come from.  With compatriot Sergei Bubka, perhaps the greatest pole-vaulter the world has ever known as her role model, the young woman seems destined to dominate the field event for many years to come.  The pole vault was one of the few events on my to-watch list during the fortnight worldwide broadcast of the Beijing Games.

And what can we say about the Brits’ medal haul?  “… From the sublime to the ridiculous” was the way the usually ever-serious Telegraph described the incredible performances when the medals kept on coming in an array of events, a sort of tongue-in-cheek bewilderment at ‘Who, we?’  My opinion?  I think the efforts of the 2012 Olympics Committee led by 1500m great, Sir Coe is already yielding dividends AND I believe the stars were in perfect alignment now that the Brits have discovered the joys of winning outside their usual sports. Already, a lot of more money and plans are being thrown into atbletics.  London 2012, here come the hoisters of St. George’s flag!

Finally, what do we make of l’il Jamaica, the new powerhouse of sprints which has dethroned mighty U.S.A. that had had a stranglehold on the sprints seemingly forever.  Young men and women from the little island dominated the sprints, including the most prestigious, the hundred meters where she made mincemeat of the fields in both finals. Let’s hear it for Usain Bolt who may claim the two hundred as his favorite but whose seeming effortless style in the hundred screams ‘a new king reigns, may this reign be real.’

There are great lessons for Nigeria in China’s glittering Olympics:  whatever a country does by way of cheating does eventually catch up and in very nasty ways. China’s fake opening ceremonies AND fielding of underage girls – in spite of the initial acclamation it brought her, ended in opprobrium.  Nigerian footballers abroad bring disgrace on us all when a thirty-year old man has twenty years in his documents courtesy when he, perhaps, first participated as “Under-18”, a feat made possible with more than a wink from official quarters.  We keep sowing evil but expect good as outcome.

Retired General Obasanjo, a man particularly positioned to change the lot of Nigeria and Nigerians, squandered what was a golden opportunity for the country to move away from its sorry past: he looked elsewhere while the census, whose “final figures” was released this past week by his hand-picked successor, was deliberately messed up.  He stole the voices and wishes of Nigeria’s majority in an election that would have ranked him among the world’s great statesmen – IF he had allowed the people’s wishes to be.  Hollow consolation? While Nigeria has been rendered head-less these past 17 months, the retired General hasn’t gotten away lightly, either. In a purgatory of his making, he has reduced himself to a regional political bit player who jostles for power among his former minions in the sewage of Southwest PDP.


NEXT WEEK:  Fellow Nigerians, to win gold, you invest in gold!

The Nation on Sunday, September 28, 2008



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