On Sunday morning, for the second time in seven months, I took apart my makeshift Olympic viewing station, which consisted of a second computer monitor perched on a TV table next to the sofa from which I could see the big-screen TV. I didn’t do quite as much work for Beijing as I did for Tokyo. I was just working for The Guardian, not NBC.
But there’s a certain melancholy to the end of the Olympics. When I covered the Salt Lake Olympics, they must have had something scheduled for the next day in the convention center that served as the media headquarters, because temporary walls were falling like the end of the Cold War. I was afraid to leave my table for fear that I’d come back with no place to sit.
Closing ceremonies are cool, of course, and you don’t always get to see it all on TV. In Salt Lake, we saw the international feed and NBC feed side by side. Viewers around the world saw a bunch of people painting a circle of ice in real time. NBC saw some commercials and then a circle that had been painted.
But the Olympic flame is extinguished, and we’re jolted back to reality. These days in particular, the reality isn’t particularly pleasant. Thanks, Putin.
Even without global political crises or an irrationally enthusiastic convention center demolition crew, the end of the Olympics can prey on my sentimentality. During the last event of the Games, the men’s ice hockey final, I handed off to someone in Australia. This was an event in China that I covered from my basement in the United States and handed off to Australia for a British newspaper. There’s something beautiful about that.
When I’ve been to the Olympics, I can sense from the staff and volunteers that they’ve come to the abrupt end of something they had been anticipating and doing for months or even years, In 2010, I left the beautiful, happy village of Whistler, wondering if I’d ever get back to someplace so beautiful — and knowing that I would soon be leaving USA TODAY after 10 years.
The best closing ceremony story I have is from Beijing. I was in a bus heading back to the media village while the fireworks were going off. We were going on a freeway offramp, and I could see, just sitting to the side, someplace you’d never be allowed to be in the United States, there was a young mother holding up a young child who must have two, maybe three. The mother was beaming, and the child was just looking on in awe as the fireworks exploded a couple of miles away. We weren’t really that close to the stadium. This child just got a glimpse of the Olympics from afar. I’m guessing this family didn’t have VIP status to go to all the venues.
I hope that child grew up and volunteered for Beijing 2022 and got to see some of it. I hope that made an impression on him that there’s a much bigger world than the Chinese government is going to otherwise give him.
Of course, my sentimentality and my optimism were killed the next morning when our flight was canceled and we wound up in a hotel next to the Hard Rock in Beijing, which is why I have a Hard Rock Beijing T-shirt.
But it’s impossible to see something like that family by the side of the road and not think about the power of sports and the ceremonies around them. They can be absolutely over the top — unless you’re Torino, and the opening ceremony is as half-assed as everything else you did in hosting the Games. (And Italy is getting another chance? Weird.)
These ceremonies mean something. They help bring inspirational stories to life. And there were a lot of inspirational stories. These ceremonies just helped them resonate.
And that brings us back to something else that happened in the past couple of weeks. The Super Bowl. For the first time since X Marks the Pod launched, we have an actual generational brouhaha. So I’m going to talk about that for a bit and then tell some Olympic stories.
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