Thursday, September 4, 2008

Beijing Olympics 2008 (Part 3 of 3)

Since I had decided to stay an extra day in Beijing, I had another full day on Sunday to do some tourist stuff and also attend track and field at the Bird's Nest.  Since I had been to Beijing the previous summer, I had already seen most of the main tourist attractions, such as the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace, and of course the Great Wall.  So Derek and I were trying to think of somewhere to go during the day and decided going to the "Old Summer Palace".  The Old Summer Palace had originally been a residence for the emperor during the summer, but was destroyed by western troops during the opium wars in the mid-1800s.  The original ruins from when the Old Summer Palace was destroyed are still there today, as well as several beautiful lakes and gardens.
Willows at Old Summer Palace
Lake at Old Summer Palace
Old Summer Palace Maze
Ruins at Old Summer Palace
Ruins at Old Summer Palace
Wes and Derek
After the Old Summer Palace, we relaxed for a little while until it was time to head to the Bird's Nest for Track and Field.  We had to leave an hour or two early before the event, because it seemed impossible to get to any of the main Olympic venues in any sort of a timely manner.  I forgot to mention it much in other posts, but since some of the roads in Beijing had been closed down for the Olympics and some new roads had opened up from newly completed construction, the cab drivers often did not know how to get to the Olympic venues.  Even if the cab drivers knew the general area of the stadium, there often weren't any good drop off points.  Whether this was by design in an effort to reduce clutter and traffic near the stadium and also encourage use of public transportation, or whether it was just bad planning, I'm not sure.  Either way, it was frustrating when you could see the stadium in the distance, but had to circle around several times to find an area within walking distance to get dropped off.  I was just happy to be with people who spoke Chinese or it could have potentially been much worse.
Transportation logistics aside, we finally arrived at the Bird's Nest and started making our way towards the stadium.  To be honest, when I had seen the Bird's Nest on tv, I thought it looked cool, but it didn't really blow me away.  When I saw it in real life, though, seeing how large it was and also seeing it at night with the lights on, I was really impressed.
Bird's Nest
Wes at Derek at Bird's Nest
Bird's Nest with Lights
The inside of the Bird's Nest is also really impressive.  The place is huge, with a capacity of 91,000.  We were on the lower part of the third tier and even though the place was so big, I still felt we could see the action pretty well.  We sat on the side of the stadium where the finish line was at and also had a great view of the Olympic flame.
The Best Looking Guy in Section 505
The Olympic Flame
Inside Bird's Nest Stadium
Just a Few People Here
When we first arrived, there were some qualifying races going on, but what I liked watching the most was the hammer throw.  It was pretty amazing to see how far these guys could throw the hammer (still not 100% sure what a hammer is).  The whole routine of them first rocking side to side to get a little momentum, then transitioning into a full on spin, and finally letting the hammer go was pretty cool to see.  I think the only other exposure to the hammer throw I had was back on my original Nintendo NES Track and Field game, which I remember being very difficult and involving some rapid action on the control pad that would give blisters to the most callused of NES players.  If real hammer throw is as hard as that, my hat goes off to them.  They also had these remote controlled cars the officials would put the hammer in after a throw and would drive them back to where the athletes were throwing.  I'm not sure why the cars had spoilers, but I'm not complaining either.
Hammer Throw Rocket Car
There were medal ceremonies going on quite often while we were there.  Even though the Men's 100M was the previous night, they had the medal ceremony the night I was there.  So we got to see Usain Bolt getting his gold medal, which was pretty cool.
Fastest Man in the World
Another even that night was a qualifying round for the Men's High Jump.  From a distance, high jump wasn't too exciting.  Maybe if it were the gold medal round it would be better, but that night it was just iterations of guys jumping .05 meters higher each time to weed out the weaker jumpers.  There were also a few qualifying runs for the Men's 1500m, which is just less than a mile. I just couldn't believe the pace these guys were able to maintain.  Back when I ran track, if I ran 400m in 52-55 seconds, that would be considered good, but these guys ran their 400m splits as fast, or faster, than that.  And it was just a qualifying round.  The women's triple jump gold medal round was held the night we were there as well.  It seemed to last forever, but it was fun to watch and I believe the woman who won gold also broke the world record.
One cool event we were able to see was the women's steeple chase.  I'm not sure how this sport ever formed, but it's basically like long distance hurdles, but one of the hurdles requires the runners to jump into water.  I'm not sure how these athletes train for running with soggy shoes, but I personally would want no part of it.  It was fun to watch and two Russian women got first and second, proving the soviets still dominate in at least one sport.
A "Normal" Steeple
The Water Steeple
The main event of the night was the Women's 100m.  Jamaican women got Gold, Silver, and Bronze.  It was pretty exciting to watch.  Unfortunately for this event, as well as many others, I took a video, which I've had trouble getting to work on this blog.  So I only have a picture of the victory lap.
Women's 100m Winner
The very last event of the night was the Men's 10000m.  This race lasted much longer than any other races we had seen that night and it was impressive to see the pace these guys were able to run.  A common theme in this race, and most other races we saw, was that no Americans were in sight for gold, silver, or bronze.  I'm not sure what happened to USA track and field, but we sure didn't seem to be doing very well, at least in the events that I saw.
Men's 10000m
So this completes my time at the Olympics and I would have to say that it was one of the greatest experiences of my life.  It was great to be able to see so many events and be part of such an international community.  I'm not sure how the media coverage was outside of the US, but my impression of how China handled the Olympics was positive, despite a few fraudulent fireworks and birth certificates, and was always treated very kindly.  In my opinion, if there wasn't at least one fraudulent occurrence in the Olympics, it wouldn't truly be China, as it is the land of bootlegged DVDs, electronics, clothing, and pretty much any other product.  I thought all the Olympic venues were very modern and aesthetically pleasing.  Even Beijing seemed much cleaner and less chaotic than I remembered a year ago, so China definitely put their best face forward for the Olympics.  I would have to imagine China's leaders are pretty happy with the way things went, both in athletics and organizationally.  I'm curious if things will change in China now that the Olympics are over: if the building will continue at the same pace, if the efforts to improve the cities and the environment that started with Olympic preparation will continue, China's relations with other countries, and so on.  Only time will tell.
Bird's Nest at Night
Water Cube
Water Cube and Bird's Nest
As always, if you want to see more pictures, check out the Picasa gallery: