What did you like best about these Olympic Games? OK, I know I’m not supposed to open with a question, but it’s worth asking. The record viewership for this year’s games proves it. There was just something about the Beijing Olympics that captivated us.
We all had our reasons. Usain Bolt, who broke records on land, gymnastics of the young and the younger, and of course, Michael Phelps, who broke records in the water.
Maybe it was the variety of sports. Water polo, field hockey, judo, weightlifting, rowing, and everyone’s favorite, badminton. Whatever it was, the NBC ratings soared, breaking records for viewership for the opening ceremonies as well as during the games themselves.
It’s the sense of pride and, dare I say it, patriotism, we all experienced during this year’s Olympic Games. This unique collection of our sports interests was profound. Rivalries and boundaries of all sorts were broken as all of America found it acceptable to root together.
No doubt many of us can relate to the joy we all simultaneously had during one of Phelps’ races. Did you watch the 4x100 medley relay? For many, it resonates as the moment of these games as the USA, anchored by Jason Lezak, charged to a comeback no one could have foreseen and one that the French still don’t believe.
OK, so maybe we were all just interested in history and sport. It’s fair to say that Phelps brought more attention to the sport of swimming than Mark Spitz ever had the power to do. But we weren’t simply rooting for the record eight gold medals; we were really rooting for eight American gold medals. It’s not to say the competition didn’t invigorate our sports senses (the end of two final races was decided by .01 seconds), but we were united as Americans.
Of course there was more than just patriotism. A sincere degree of interest had to have been necessary for the viewership to be so high. An interest in sport itself was necessary, whether that is gymnastics or soccer. People were simply entranced at what individual human beings could actually accomplish.
And what a spectacle it was, leading many to say that this Olympics is the greatest games since it was brought back in Athens in 1896.
From the opening ceremonies that defied spectacle, it was obvious where the bar had been set in Beijing. NBC was just happy to be alongside for the ride, and apparently, so were we.
China, which even today is a mystery to some, opened up its doors. There were no uncomfortable moments as China displayed the new People’s Republic, enlisting tens of thousands of volunteers, constructing some of the most magnificent structures of recent Olympics, while bolstering its relationship with the world.
It’d be very easy to go over every storyline that got the attention of viewers on any given night. Volleyball winning three of the four gold medals, the scandal of the Chinese girl with questionable documents (Don’t trust people under 14.), and my personal favorite: the reclaiming of gold in men’s basketball.
But ultimately, many of us will remember this as
the most spectacular games of our time because of the endless array of subplots in a seemingly endless array of sports. For 17 days, we turned our attention to this place we didn’t know much about so that we could watch sports that we weren’t much familiar with. And it was just how we wanted it. Because we knew who to root for and we wanted them to win. It was the essence of Olympic competition, and it was alive this past couple of weeks in Beijing.
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