So if you only have tickets to five Olympic events, where do you watch all the other ones? Before the Games started, I didn’t spend much time thinking about how we’d watch all those events that we didn’t have tickets to. Turns out I was right not to worry. Here are some of the events we’ve caught outside the stands, and the often unexpected places we’ve watched them from:
- Opening Ceremonies: Although we weren’t even in China for the opening ceremonies, we got to watch a nice, long chunk of boring country parades, plus the entire finale, from the courtyard bar of our hostel in Siem Reap, Cambodia (the town near Angkor Wat). We watched with two Brits who were also staying at our hostel, plus a delightful older Cambodian man who giggled almost every time a new country emerged to parade around the track.
- Michael Phelps, Gold Medal Number ?: After taking the (extremely comfortable) overnight train from Bangkok to Krabi, we just missed the hourly boat to our beach destination and were stuck in the small oceanside pavilion that served as an open-air terminal. Not to worry; the TV mounted to the ceiling of the pavilion was showing the Olympics, and smack in the middle of our forty-five minute wait, Michael Phelps appeared, swam, set a world record and won a gold medal, looking no more excited than we were to be waiting for the next boat.
- Women’s Volleyball, U.S. vs. China: We caught the first set of this match on the shuttle into town from Beijing Capital Airport the evening we returned, then finished watching the satisfying victory in a bar where we met our friend Sarah, still sporting our backpacks (shoved under the table) and our sandy socks.
- Too Many Events to be Named: We’ve spent quite a bit of our time in Beijing so far shuttling from place to place, but does this mean we’ve missed out on a lot of Olympic action? Of course not. Every bus and subway car in town is showing live, almost commercial-free feeds of Olympic events. We’ve caught everything from badminton to softball to wrestling while sitting in the molded plastic seats of comfortably air-conditioned train cars or breezy buses. And when nothing’s happening, there are always endless highlight reels to entertain. One caveat: if China is competing, in anything (and they usually are), you can bet that’s what you’ll see. The only notable exception to this rule has been, happily, Michael Phelps!
- Basketball, China vs. Greece: Yesterday we watched an Olympic event in perhaps the most unlikely place yet: the Summer Palace! This UNESCO World Heritage site was not somewhere we expected to see any Olympics — let alone a television — but as we approached the famous 17-arch bridge, its flagstones worn down by emperors and its balustrades lined with ancient dragon sculptures, what did we see but a giant television? Dozens of Chinese tourists lined the steps of the pavilion opposite the television, glued to the screen. We sat down with them as the Chinese team mounted a hopeful comeback, then fell back again and finally lost. But even though China’s loss was inevitable well before it became official, the team’s Summer Palace fans stayed with them to the bitter end.
First, the good news: tonight we head out to watch what promise to be two great quarterfinal matches in Women’s Volleyball. Best of all, we get to see the U.S. again! If you’re able to tune in, look for us with our flag draped over our shoulders as China takes on Russia and the U.S. plays Italy. We have new respect for volleyball after witnessing the U.S. play China last weekend; we knew it was fun to play, but it’s also a really fun sport to watch!
The bad news is that China’s biggest loss this week is also ours; we had tickets to watch the Men’s 110-meter hurdles finals, featuring national hero and Athens 2004 gold medalist Liu Xiang. In case you hadn’t heard, an injury that has been bothering him all spring became too much in warmups yesterday, and he is now a scratch from the competition. We may not be as disappointed as the Chinese (one fan is quoted by the New York Times as saying: “This is such a disgrace for China . . . both the media and Liu Xiang himself should take the responsibility”), but we’re still kind of bummed. And in case we get sick or decide at the last minute not to go, we can now forget about the 1,000-2,000% markup we could have received by selling our tickets at the gate.
In all seriousness, though, Liu Xiang’s withdrawal is a truly major disappointment for the Chinese people, who had to watch their only track and field medalist ever hobble away without ever running a race in his own country’s Olympics. Most of all it must be devastating for Liu Xiang, who has very literally given most of his life (it’s what Olympic athletes here do) for this moment. Our hearts are with him.
And for us, the news is not all bad: the Men’s 400-meter finals (at the same track event on Thursday) looks to be a battle between two Americans, Jeremy Wariner and LaShawnMerritt. ESPN says: “Entering the Games, they owned all 10 of the world’s best 2008 times in this event and both won their first-round heats Monday. They should be there together at the wire in the final Thursday.” So look for us waving our flag in the nosebleed section once again!!