Unlikely bedfellows – Me and the Beijing Olympics

Beijing Stadium Fireworks

By Christopher Pickhardt

I lay awake at 6 am this morning unable to sleep, tossing and turning in my bed – like trying to nap on a wooden staircase. I can usually sleep anywhere but not today. My gift of sleep versatility was broken today. Truth be told, I had a lot on my mind, too much to think about at such an early hour. Why do our problems seem to reveal themselves in the middle of the night? Never the less, I lay there, WIDE AWAKE. To distract myself from my running mind, in hopes of zoning myself to sleep, I watched the Olympics.

This is a rare moment for me because I am not usually a sports guy – those who know me can attest to that. I am the guy who could usually be found watching a movie over the day’s big game and the Oscars, well, they are my true Super Bowl! But in a strange turn of events, I have found my eyes circling web articles for Olympic updates these last few days, and flipping through the channels to NBC, MSNBC or to the USA network hoping for a glimpse at something exciting or hopefully extraordinary.

I found myself drawn to these heralded 2008 Olympics for the first time in my life. Maybe it was China, a mesmerizing draw in itself, with its ancient architecture and deeply rich culture that demanded my attention. Better yet, perhaps it was the media chatter and excitement surrounding our own Michael Phelps, the unbelievably inhuman swimming god who has broken more records than a bull at a vinyl shop. In the end, it does not really matter what lured me in, I was interested. Stop the presses.

As I stared at my television screen at the athleticism on display and noted the pitch darkness of the morning out the window beside me I realized that I was clearly not dozing, but instead was caught up in a tense volleyball game between Brazil and Russia, the two best teams in the world. Sadly, Brazil lost in a surprisingly self-destructive manner (bravo Russia), but it wasn’t the end of the road for Brazil just yet, as they still have a good chance at making a comeback this weekend against Poland, just to name one team. After the game I passed by some basketball, which was not my taste and then flipped around to the Today Show live from Beijing, then to some Greco-Roman Wrestling on MSNBC which was not even remotely interesting to me. I kind of wish it was though. As the clock ticked on towards 7 I did eventually finally fall asleep thankfully.

Beijing Volleyball stadium
Beijing Institute of Technology Gymnasium

When I got home later that night from work I watched women’s gymnastics (yet another activity I would never normally watch) and marveled at these young girls from the USA, China and Russia flip, jump, run and twirl their hearts out in front of millions of people. I couldn’t help respect their tremendous skill, laser-point precision, agility and poise under unimaginable pressure. These kids have been under more stress before they are legally able to drive than most people experience in their whole life. They were truly a remarkable sight.

A smile crept onto my face as I watched the Gold, Silver and Bronze medals being awarded to the USA and China. Tears rolled down USA Gold medal winner Nastia Liukin’s face as she received the very thing she has been dreaming about since she was 4 – a dream shared by her father and coach, Valeri Liukin, who was a double Gold medalist for the Soviet Union 20 years ago. Sharing the same emotion was 16 year-old USA Silver medal winner Shawn Johnson, who stood to the left of Luikin. She has been compared to famed Olympic Gold-winning gymnast Mary Lou Retton. Then to the right of Luikin was Yang Yilin of China, who won the Bronze. I don’t know if the pressure of this incredible experience was too much for her to handle or if she was nervous of the repercussions her country may divvy out to her for not coming in first, but standing up there in that moment this amazing athlete looked frozen. The pressure the People’s Republic has put on their athletes to win is loathsome and unfair. If they had a heart they would see that at this moment, China has won the most Gold medals with a not too shabby 22. However, the USA has the most total medals so far, with 43. So China, lighten up a bit and give your stars some air.

Olympics Day 9 - Artistic Gymnastics
(L-R) Nastia Liukin (USA) poses with the bronze medal, Sandra Izbasa (Romania) poses with the gold medal and Shawn Johnson (USA) poses with the silver medal in the women’s individual floor final.

I guess what I am getting at with all this sudden Olympic enthusiasm inside me is deep down, the Olympics are the closest thing we will ever have to a taste of world peace. The Olympics are so much more than heated competition and bragging rights, much bigger than the World Cup and most certainly more emotional to its participants than any other event in the world. These games represent something very meaningful to me. It is the only time the world is united in one global activity and we are all watching something together, something positive, and something amazing. For the briefest of moments all of humanity is focused on ONE THING. And that is rather amazing.

It occurred to me a few years back as the last Olympic Games came and passed, that I have always felt a sense of world unity and togetherness, dare I say peace, around me whenever the Olympics were on. I remember even since I was a small boy, walking past my parent’s room as they cheered and clapped in awe of the athletic ability and endurance they were witnessing, that something special was going on in the world. Until this week I never really paid much attention to it, to these Olympic Games, but I have always enjoyed when they were on, even if I was not paying attention it, because for even the slightest of moments I felt that the world was at ease within itself and we could all actually get along for a while. That peace, harmony and the simple appreciation of being alive is enough for all of us and together we can sit back and applaud the best of ourselves and throw away our differences if even for the briefest of periods. There is great comfort in that, even if it is to be short lived.

Beijing 2008 Olympic Logo


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