Thoughts and sights during opening ceremonies

Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney sent this blog this morning (Las Vegas time) as he attended the opening ceremonies of the Summer Olympics in Beijing.

Ten minutes before the XXIX Olympiad begins, before the world meets the modern-day China, and what are over 91,000 onlookers at National Stadium doing?

The wave, of course.

Man, I expected more from the Chinese.

Bang those drums, boys: There is a 2,008-member Fou Band standing in rectangular formation about to pound away on the Chinese percussion instrument that lights up when struck. Some of the performances were practiced for 13 months and I’m guessing this was one. What an incredible beginning. The rhythm by which they play is as tight as you could imagine.

The first sighting of five rings: They represent the five major regions of the world — Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and Oceania — and right now are illuminated on the field below and being lifted off the ground.

Finger painting, this isn’t: A Chinese painting scroll is opened. Performers begin to apply black and white tones of Chinese ink and wash paint. They draw clouds, which disappear and leave only the mountains, rivers and sun. Beautiful.

A substitute for the Atkins diet: I haven’t moved in an hour and have probably lost 5 pounds. I wore a light green shirt into this place and it’s now the color of the putting surface at Augusta. It’s that hot, that humid, that sticky, that unbearable for any place other than this one. Here, you take sticky and love it. She can fly: There is a small Chinese girl soaring through the air while being pulled by a kite. Sure, if you look closely, you can see the cable towing her along, but those small details shouldn’t ruin such an exciting moment.

Lomong speaks (sort of): A few of the seemingly millions of volunteers are handing out quote sheets from the flag-bearers of each country. Here is what U.S. track athlete Lopez Lomong had to say about carrying the Stars and Stripes: “I am honored to represent my country and to live there. I am so happy to be here at the 2008 Olympic Games.”

Me too, Lopez. Now throw a towel up here so I can dry off.

The athletes arrive: It is 9:10 p.m. local time. Greece is the first country to enter. Only 203 to go! The thing many don’t realize is how few of each country’s athletes participate in the ceremonies. Said one veteran Olympics writer who has covered the summer and winter Games for decades: “For a lot of these countries, it’s pretty much a few athletes and 50 freeloaders wearing the uniforms.”

Just saw Madagascar. Wow, I assumed Alex, Marty and Melman weren’t athletically gifted enough to qualify, but how didn’t Gloria make the team in the shot put?

It seems the entire Mauritania contingent is one short of a starting five for basketball.

The leading news story on Yahoo right now is about Katie Holmes chopping down her bob hairdo for a pixie. Man, moving to a Communist country to live is sounding better by the second.

Iraq just got a huge ovation. It wasn’t supposed to be here, but at the last minute, the IOC reconciled with the country’s national Olympics committee and let them come. Either that, or the cheers were because the Chinese also think the war is a bad idea.

We are more than halfway there with 115 countries having filed by waving, dancing, laughing and wondering if Mauritania might medal.

The United States is now eight countries from arriving on the scene. I can only imagine how nervous Kobe Bryant is …

There are mostly cheers for the U.S., but you can hear boos mixed in. The reaction for President Bush and wife Laura? Muddled cheers at best. Team USA brought up the rear in a lengthy procession, probably because it arrived in the last five minutes.

One noticeable (non-)act: Most countries when passing the box of the host nation’s president will tip their flag out of respect. The U.S. hardly ever does and Lomong followed suit, keeping the flag raised as he strolled by where Hu Jintao sat. Weak.

How curious: In the official program of the opening ceremonies, it stated North Korea would immediately follow South Korea into the venue. But someone must have placed a phone call and suggested an alternative plan, because those from the North came three groups after the Southies. Hey, if you can’t get along in this setting …

Those wacky Germans: Two of the nation’s soccer players wore balls on their heads painted blue and gold. Why, I can’t tell you, but at least they’ll have something to catch all the sweat.

The crowd is roaring. Two countries left, and you know all these people aren’t going wild for Zambia. Here comes China … basketball player Yao Ming is carrying the flag. You could see him from about 15 miles away. No wonder China is going to win more gold medals than anyone. Its contingent of athletes seems to stretch a few million long.

The Chinese certainly know their basketball. Loud roars go up when Kobe Bryant and then Dirk Nowitzki are shown on the Jumbotran.

Speeches come next. First up is BOCOG President and Beijing mayor Liu Qi and IOC president Jacques Rogge, followed by Chinese president Hu Jintao. Liu spoke for 10 minutes and ended his remarks with, “Welcome to Beijing.” He could have left it at that and had the same impact. The raising of the Olympic flag comes next, followed by the Olympic anthem, athletes’ oath (THOU SHALL NOT DOPE), officials’ dope (THOU SHALL NOT CHEAT WHEN SCORING CHINESE GYMNASTS WHO ARE TOO YOUNG TO COMPETE), and the release of doves.

Well, they didn’t release any. It was just a dance of Chinese women dressed in white making dove signs with their hands. You don’t think they would purposefully send those beautiful creatures into this polluted air on purpose, do you?

The Olympic flame is now being carried around the stadium by past Chinese gold medalists, and the ending was as spectacular as you could have imagined. Li Ning, a gold medalist in artistic gymnastics, was lifted hundreds of feet into air and was pulled around the stadium on a cable in front of a screen that resembled a red carpet. As he ran across the screen’s face, the carpet revealed behind him all the different points in the world that the torch has visited the past several months.

The moment and ceremonies culminated with Li lighting the Olympic flame atop the stadium and Beijing erupting in fireworks for several minutes. And so it begins …

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