Friday, 8 August 2008


Charles Robinson
Yahoo Sports

BEIJING – The sky was on fire, and the security guard standing next to me inside the bowels of Beijing’s majestic “Birds Nest” wouldn’t stop elbowing me.

He nodded toward the hundreds of booming drums carpeting the stadium deck below us, and sounded out a word.


Indeed. Awesome.

Friday’s Opening Ceremony was one of the few moments in the fantastical world of sports when superlatives had no shot. Brilliant. Powerful. Gripping. Take your pick. String them all together and they can’t exaggerate this one. Maybe the only way to understand how fulfilling the 2008 Opening Ceremony was is to think four years in advance to the 2012 games, and pity the city of London. The planning committee from those Games was in attendance last night. And you can bet whoever is in charge of the ceremony there was sitting on a floor with his head in his hands.

Here are the five things I sure hope NBC shows on Friday night, building from memorable to unforgettable:

1. The singing of the Chinese national anthem

This might seem like an odd pick to Americans. But part of the remarkable nature of these games is the continuing exploration of the people of China, and a deeper look into their national pride. Never was that self dignity and absolute affection more apparent than the singing of “March of the Volunteers.”

After having been in many, many stadiums and having heard anthems belted out in every conceivable way, it was fascinating to see the Chinese singing in such an emotional way. There was no restraint whatsoever – every voice was maxed out, and every word was given an equal measure of passion. It was such an abundant harmony that almost anyone I could see who wasn’t Chinese was looking around at the people standing next to them, enjoying the spectacle.

2. Kobe Bryant

This was the oddity of the night. Behind the Chinese president and the entire national team, the one athlete who appeared to get the loudest ovation was none other than Kobe Bean Bryant. The moment was so odd that even U.S. journalists were looking at each other in puzzlement. The Russian, Chinese and American presidents were here, but Kobe was the head of state tonight.

3. Costumes and props

The sheer number of human beings incorporated into the ceremony was staggering. The government put the tally at more than 10,000, and it didn’t appear to be an exaggeration.

But the array of costumes and props was like nothing an Olympics has ever seen. The sets produced were unending, from a titanic scroll to an undulating stadium floor that produced Chinese symbols to a planet that rose from beneath the stadium deck – the sets took you through a 5,000-year time capsule of China’s history. And the costume designs (there were over 15,000 costumes used) were flawless, vivid and colorful, whether it was the thousands of ancient robes or space-age suits that contained countless flickering bulbs.

4. Percussion drums

The first moments of the ceremony were signaled by the amazing rhythmic rumble of 2,008 percussion drums that produced a pulse-pounding start. The drums also turned into a giant set of cascading lights, shuffled from one end of the bird’s nest to the other, as a roaring crowd climbed to its feet. There was something primal yet elegant and powerful about the drums at the start.

5. The lighting of the torch

You know an Olympics has gotten off on the right foot when the torch lighting ceremony really grabs you. Muhammad Ali at the 1996 games in Atlanta was a proud and heartfelt moment. The flaming arrow in the 1992 games in Barcelona was inventive and daring. But Beijing set a mind-bending standard that defied belief.

I have been told not to give it away, but I can honestly say that nobody in the building could have guessed what ultimately happened. Expect something that breaks the laws of nature, but manages to be both graceful and awe-inspiring at the same time.

If those are the right words to describe it.

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