Blog Trouble in 'Lympic China

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Sunday, August 24, 2008



In my thoughts I have seen,
Olympic rings of smoke through the trees...

We're buying a stairway to the Temple of Heaven in Beijing as the Olympics come to a close. Will NBC realize that all that glitters is not gold, or will they take us to the gallows pole of fluff? Ramble on...

• I await tonight in fear. For the last two Olympics, NBC has had more fluff on the final night of coverage than on any other night. I'd love to think they weren't going to do this again. But I'll believe it when I see it.

• Bob warns us during his opening that we'll be seeing a lot of recaps of events from throughout the games. We're warned of fluff and the show is only minutes old. This isn't good.

• Fortunately, we start with men's volleyball, where the U.S.A. has unexpectedly made it into the gold medal game versus Brazil.

NBC forwards the tape to the end of the second set. The U.S. wins the last few points to tie Brazil at one set a piece.

• Fluff #1. Weren't the Opening Ceremonies awesome? Look at all the pretty colors and drummers! What's that? You don't know how the volleyball game is going? We'll let you know about that when we're good and ready!

• Back to volleyball. I was a little worried when they started the broadcast with the United States trailing that this was going to be a short segment, but now we've jumped ahead to the middle of the third set and the U.S. is ahead, so it looks like it could go either way.

The United States wins set three! U.S.A. is up 2-1!

• While I don't watch "America's Got Talent" regularly, I did see the one with the opera singer that they keep featuring in their commercials. Opera Man, Neal Boyd sang "Nessun Dorma" and was pretty good. I knew the song was "Nessun Dorma" because Luciano Pavarati sang it at the Opening Ceremonies of the Turin games two years ago.

However, I also knew it was "Nessun Dorman" when Paul Potts of England sang it in "Britain's Got Talent." AND judge Piers Morgan, who works both sides of The Pond, HAD to have known that chubby men like singing "Nessun Dorma," given that he had just seen it months before. Yet he acted as if nothing like this had ever happened before. Does Piers think we're all idiots? Hasn't he ever seen YouTube?

• Fluff #2. Pandas! Everyone loves pandas! Awwwwwww... they're so CUTE!

• Fluff #3. The Wei River! Did any Olympics happen there? No. Is it even close to Beijing? Not really. But now you know it's there!

• This fourth set seems like it's taking forEVER. The U.S. was ahead, then behind, then ahead, then behind again... but now they've just tied it at 20.

High-ranking Team Rockwood member Sandy says, "The U.S. must be about to win." Why, I ask? "Because it's the top of the hour and Bob said we'd be watching the Closing Ceremonies in about an hour." Insight like this is why SHE is a high-ranking Team Rockwood member and you are not.

And she's right! The U.S.A. wins gold in men's volleyball!

Lindsay Soto interviews U.S. Volleyball coach Hugh McCutcheon. Talk about highs and lows in an interview. Friday's interview for him must have been tough enough, but here it's clear that he just plain doesn't know how to react. On day one of the Olympics, his father-in-law was murdered by a crazy man. On the last day of the Olympics, his team won a gold medal, the first by the men since 1984. If you wrote a script like that, everyone would reject it for being unbelievable.

And at the volleyball medal ceremony, what do we see? The players singing... the coaches singing... heck, in the background, even the FANS are singing. And none of this under-the-breath singing, either. Tattooed tough-looking Lloy Ball is in full-throated glory. People in the back of the arena can probably hear him. Dangit, Lloy. Now I'm gonna have to get a tissue. Great job, guys.

• And now we're off to the Bird's Nest, where Bob Costas and Dan Hicks will describe what's plainly visible in the Closing Ceremonies.

• We start with a countdown in fireworks. China uses up all the fireworks they had remaining after the Opening Ceremonies. Impressive.

The Chinese national anthem is "March of the Volunteers." One would assume that they don't play that ironically. But they should.

Hey, did you hear about the 70-plus-year-old women that are going to spend a year in a "reeducation through labor" camp because they wanted to protest the government "volunteering" to destroy their houses to make way for development? Maybe they can march there voluntarily. Wouldn't that be great?

• Fluff #4. The men's 4x100m swimming relay. Phelps is screaming! And that was only like his fourth gold medal.

• Back to the CC. More drummers, this time wearing red jumpsuits and gold bicycle helmets. There are women surrounding them and two inflatable drums lowering from the rooftop to meet them in the middle of the floor. What does it all mean? Dan Hicks can't tell us, but he does know it's something on an epic scale. Insight like that is why Dan Hicks is NOT a high-ranking Team Rockwood member.

• Holy Program! It's the Bicycles of Tron! They're not really even bicycles since they're just one wheel, but the riders sit inside the wheel, and the wheel itself is all lit up with neon tubes. It's hard to describe. You'll just have to Google it.

• Now the stadium is filled with weirdness. Helmeted drummers. Flying drummers. Bikes of Tron. Pogo stick people. Dancing girls. Weird Disney-Main-Street-electrical-parade floats with helmet drummers playing drums with their feet as they bounce off of trampolines. I guess tonight's theme for the Closing Ceremonies is that director Zhang Yimou has been taking too much acid and listening to too much Pink Floyd. Hey! Maybe Pink Floyd is the connection to the next Olympics in London!

• The athletes storm the floor, and now you get to see thousands upon thousands of athletes that you never saw on NBC's primetime coverage.

• Fluff #5. Usain Bolt wins the 100 meter dash and sets a world record! What? He just did that several days ago and now he did it again? Oh... oh yeah. Taped. Never mind.

• Back at the Bird's Nest and the camera wanders the floor, picking out random people who seem to be having a good time. So now you know. It's not just fans at sporting events that enjoy pointing and waving at video cameras. I'm just amazed that we haven't seen anyone on their cellphone yet.

• Bob tells us we're not done but we're pausing... FOR SOME FLUFF!

• Fluff #6. More from Phelps, this time his seventh medal, the one he won by a fingertip. Okay, yeah... this one was pretty impressive.

• Next up, the last event-related thing of the Olympics, the medal ceremony for the men's marathon. Samuel Wansiru of Kenya sings. Yay!

• Members of the International Olympic Committee are walked into the arena by Chinese children, one would presume only the best looking ones. There are no ugly children in China! Officially.

• Fluff #7. Shawn Johnson's balance beam routine. I'll bet she wins the gold. Hey! I was right!

• Li Qui, president of the Beijing Olympic Committee, and then Jacques Rogge, president of the IOC, speak to the crowd. They say that the Chinese Olympics were great. They were amazing. That we speak the truth. No force can stop us now, we're cool, we're badasses, blah, blah, blah.

• The sound for Qui and Rogge is terrible. Doesn't NBC have a direct feed from these microphones? I know times are tight, but maybe that's something they could have squeezed in to the BILLION dollar budget.

• Fluff #8. The Redeem Team. I actually stayed up late last night... uh, this morning... to watch the U.S.A. win the gold in basketball. They did show a medal ceremony, but I missed that. I was lucky to have been able to stay up until the 3:30 a.m. central time ending. I think I missed a few minutes of the fourth quarter, but I did see the final score. It was zzzzz to zzzzz. Or something like that.

• The next summer games are in London, England, so now, the raising of the British flag over Chinese soil. Ha! Hong Kong once again belongs to England, Hu Jintao! You should have read that "Olympic transfer" contract more carefully!

• Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, appears in the stadium to accept the handover of the Olympic flag. Apparently he doesn't realize that his jacket has buttons. Or that combs have been invented. But he waves the flag and everything's good. The Olympics are London bound!

• Fluff #9. Nastia Liukin's floor exercise in the all-around. It's the one gold she received, but not the only one she earned. We're talking to you, International Gymnastics Federation rule-making idiots. Tie-breaker, my butt. Equal scores should get equal medals!

• The London Olympic organizers wanted a symbol of London, so they chose a double-decker bus. Presumably it's full of tourists who look the wrong way before crossing the street, like happened to me when I was there.

And now the double-decker bus is turning into... A TRANSFORMER! Optimus Prime is here to kick some Chinese butt!

No, no, no... it opens up and Leona Lewis emerges along with Jimmy Page. They start playing "Whole Lotta Love." NBC gets a shot of Page with the giant Olympic flame directly behind him. Awesome! Speaking of Zeppelin, have you seen Robert Plant lately? Leona Lewis is a lot easier on the eyes.

Oh! Now David Beckham rises up out of the bus. Does that mean his wife is going to be here, too? What represents England better than the Spice Girls? I'll tell you what we want, what we really, really want: a Led Zeppelin-Beatles double-bill for the opening ceremonies in 2012. Yes, I'm aware that nearly half of them are dead. By 2012, it might be more than half. The time to act is now.

• Now that London's presentation is done, some athletes walk up an symbolic airplane-boarding-ladder to nowhere. What happens once they get to the top? Carousel! Carousel!

Noooo... instead, they look longingly back at the video images projected on the membrane around the stadium's edge. Also, two men in white makeup pose dramatically on top of a "memory tower" in the middle of the field. Ironically, after these Olympics are over, all of the bad things that happened in Beijing during the games will disappear into a "memory hole."

It's time to extinguish the flame. Hu Jintao orders it crushed by dozens of tanks! Ha ha! No, he doesn't. It just fizzles out.

But the memory tower, a lattice-like structure, is suddenly covered on the outside by hundreds of people all looking towards its center. What are they looking at? IT'S THUNDERDOME!

Dan points out that all 91,000 people in the stadium are trained on precisely when to turn on the lights you see in the background. Yes, it takes a lot of training to tell people to turn on a flashlight.

The memory tower is now covered in fabric which magically lifts off towards the ceiling revealing the tower climbers in the shape of the Beijing Olympics logo. Very nice.

More fireworks. Lots of fireworks. In the stadium. On top of the stadium. Around the stadium. In the city within sight of the stadium. The Chinese like fireworks. That's okay, because I do, too. They look great!

• And now the parade of Chinese pop stars! Maybe it is. Everyone in the stadium cheered, so I'm assuming that's who these people are. They ain't no Spice Girls.

I don't understand Chinese, but I'm going to translate the lyrics for you the best I can:

" Beijing, Beijing
Beijing, Beijing
Something something something
Beijing, Beijing."

It's very profound, I'm sure.

• More Tron robots! Rappellers covered with Christmas lights drop from the edge of the stadium roof all the way to the floor. Then they get reeled back up. Then lowered. Raised. Lowered. They're like electric human yoyos. Why? Because it looks cool! Duh!

• Fluff #10. The women's 4x400m relay at the Bird's Nest. They ran fast AND didn't drop the baton. A winning combination!

• Jackie Chan! Jackie Chan is singing along with everyone else! You know what would make this the most awesome closing ceremonies ever? You know those thousand "volunteers" on the stadium floor. Jackie Chan has get out of the stadium by fighting his way through them. GO!

• Pip, pip, cheerio. Now we're in England, chaps! Michael Phelps is in London talking to a BBC reporter and a crowd of thousands, telling them all he'll be there in four years. Is this the Chinese Closing Ceremonies? No. You know what that means: Fluff!

• Fluff #11. Usain Bolt again, this time in the 200 meters. He's still fast.

• Should I call this fluff #12? It's Cris Collinsworth, America's favorite soccer dad, one more time from Beijing. "What a couple of weeks it's been for me," starts Cris. Holy Jimmy Roberts, Batman, it's a FLUFF RECAP. I should double this amount of fluff time just out of spite. He selects favorite moments from his favorite fluff pieces. Fluff about fluff. Amazing. I never would have even conceived of such a thing, but now that I've seen it, its existence is so obvious that I can't believe that Jimmy Roberts never thought of it.

• Bob's closing thoughts come with Chairman Mao looking over his shoulder. Basically he says that the Chinese Olympics were great. They were amazing. That we speak the truth. No force can stop us now, we're cool, we're badasses, blah, blah, blah.

• The credits start and all of the biggest of the big wigs not only get their name printed on the screen, but also voiced over. This happened in Athens, too. How pretentious! Can you imagine what people would think of a movie director who tried something that vain?

Anyway, the credits do NOT count as fluff, because these people --with the exception of the vain, pretentious people who had their names read out loud-- actually work for a living and deserve a little credit. Read along and see if you recognize anyone's name. Enjoy.

• The last credit? "See you from Vancouver in 18 months." Wow. Is that all? I'd better start getting ready.

And so, we made it. Seventeen days of events and a whole lot of hours of television later, Beijing managed to clamp down on anything un-volunteer-esque and put on a pretty good games. NBC didn't do that bad either. I'm going to get some sleep, but I'll be back one more time for 2008 to give you a wrapup and to see who won the much coveted Rockwood Olympic Watch Medals. See you tomorrow!

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