The Oympic Games: A Saturday to Remember

 
Lucking Out
 

            The free subway map I picked up from the airport Olympic information center was certainly coming in handy.  Not only had I easily arrived at the Shangdi station, which is a few blocks away from my hotel, but I also discovered where the Olympic venues were.   I especially took special note of competitions which would not be held in the central Olympic Sports Center and Olympic Green area.  The map  labeled in Chinese characters (with the official sports’ figures nearby for the Chinese illiterate) which places would be having which events.

             Beijing has always had a wide number of university and public sports’ centers within the city.  These were dotted throughout the city,  being used for Game events such as beach volleyball, volleyball, wrestling, boxing, kick-boxing, and tennis, just to name a few.  These sites were good to note because they are not near subway stops.  If I purchased any of these tickets far from the main sports areas, I needed to know how much travel time to allow myself.

               My first venture out was to Beitucheng subway stop, which places the crowds to the Olympic Games center. 

            Exiting the train, the atmosphere was charged with excitement. Everywhere, people were coming and going.  Groups of Chinese kids gleefully chattered away as their adult chaperones led them onward to an event.  Reporters and cameramen with heavy equipment paraded by.  Uniformed coaches, athletes and team assistants quickly hustled onward, their passes dangling around their necks.  Then we have the thousands of Olympic fans, such as myself, who were making their way down a winding corridor toward the subway exit.

            This corridor was humming with activity, not just from spectators but from sellers.  One woman was hawking small flags of China and the Olympics, 1 yuan each (12 cents).  Another was catering to both  children and adults with colorful stickers.  These included hearts, Chinese flags, Olympic designs and the 5 Olympic cartoon animal mascots,  Bei, Jing, Huan, Ying, Nin.  When strung together, the names cleverly create the sentence “Beijing welcomes you.” 

            The Chinese really fell for these stickers. After paying 12 cents for one sheet, I watched the kids playfully slapping them to their cheeks, foreheads and arms.  Even the adults couldn’t resist decorating their faces for the Olympics’ arrival.

            It was after I had purchased my stickers and flags that I noticed a lone scalper, openly holding up a single ticket in the hopes of a buyer.  Several had gathered around to inspect what was being offered.

            Although I hadn’t planned on doing this so soon,  I decided to try my luck.

            “How much?” I asked in Chinese.

            “400 yuan ($58),” the man replied.

            I peered at the ticket:  Weightlifting, 7 p.m. that evening, with a face value of 100 yuan ( $14.50).

            “300 ($43.50),” I tried.

            The man snorted in disdain at my offer.   He wasn’t budging so I turned to move on.

            There was a tug on my arm.

            Despite the seller’s original reluctance, he jerked his chin upward. 

            It was a sale.

            I’d done it!  I’d managed an Olympic venue ticket for a price I could afford. Never mind I knew nothing about weightlifting.  I’d come to see a competition and that’s what I’d be doing.  I felt a bit like Charlie in Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.  I’d gotten my golden ticket. 

            This was definitely what I had hoped for when I decided to come.

 

           

The Olympic Green

 

            The Olympic Green and Sports Center are where all the famous venues are located, including the Cube (National Natatorium) and the Bird’s Nest which houses the Olympic flame.

            The Olympic Green is a beautiful boulevard walkway.  This is the place spectators leisurely saunter through, taking pictures of the architectural wonders that have lit up the TV screen for over a week. 

            Unfortunately, I quickly learned that tight security won’t allow anyone near the venues without a ticket.  Taking pictures of the Bird’s Nest and the Cube from a distance was the best any of us without venue tickets could do.  It was a bit disappointing to come so far and not be able to walk around these amazing competition centers.   I had to make due with shots from afar, like the rest of the gawking visitors.

            But to be honest, I really didn’t care.  I had my Olympic ticket in hand.  That was good enough for me.

 

 A Night To Remember

 

            The Koreans went nuts!  Their flags flew.  Their cheers pierced the gymnasium.  Their sections waved.

            It was a great night for South Korea and women’s heavyweight weightlifting history. Three  Olympic and world records set in the 75+ kg (165 lbs)  women’s weightlifting final.

            And I witnessed it all.

            I couldn’t have lucked out on a better ticket.  This was about to be a night to remember.

            I arrived early by subway to the weighlifting venue at Beijing University of Aeronautics & Astronautics Gymnasium.  If this was the only competition I’d see here at the Olympics, I was going to enjoy it to the fullest.

            Since it’s impossible to get into venues, or anywhere near them, without passing through ticket check points, I made sure I was there an hour early.

            I followed the South Korean fans and others through the main university gates and then passed through a lovely walkway of trees.  Chinese universities, even in the middle of huge, traffic-filled cities, have beautiful campuses.

            At the security check, our helpful Olympic volunteers carefully directed us through the line.  Our tickets were manually checked, scanned by an electronic ticket machine, and handed back to us for entry.  All spectators and their belongings went through security screening  as well.  After that, it was through the fenced in area to land in front of the gymnasium steps, decked with flowers.

            With 45 minutes yet to go, I hung around outside, watching Chinese and foreign visitors alike milling about in anticipation of the competition to come.  A snack bar had people buying ice cream, drinks and hotdogs.  The small souvenir shop was busy but not too many buying as prices were high.  30 minutes before the competition, out came full life-sized versions of our Olympic mascots.  To entertain the children, they danced and hopped around while the MC’s urged them on.  A picture-taking session was next with lines of eager families waiting for their turn with their beloved Game characters.

            25 minutes to go, I entered the gymnasium.

            What an incredible sight!  The place was amazing: brightly lit, extremely colorful, everything spiffy, clean and new.  The press section was busy with photographers adjusting their cameras.  The judges’ tables were all in place.  A special area  for other Olympic athletes, visiting venues during the Games, was sectioned  off in front of the stage area.  In the stands, those of us with the cheap tickets(high up) were abundant.  My row was 27 out of 35, seat 21, which gave me a fairly close, clear vantage point of the weighlifting arena.  Although I only had a side view, the next level lower had a small monitor which allowed me to see what TV viewers were watching. 

            To keep everyone in high spirits, upbeat music was constantly playing throughout the gym.  We also had Chinese dancers, male and female, who flitted about  performing vibrant dance routines in satiny costumes.

            The Chinese certainly do know how to put on a show.

            15 minutes before the event, our athletes were introduced.  I was excited to see an American in the group.  My U.S. flag would definitely come in handy this evening.  I expected to wave it high when cheering on our Olympian.

              It was the South Koreans, however, who created the most noise.  Their Jang Mi-ran, weighing in at 105 kg (231.5 lbs), was a favorite to win the gold if she could beat out Ukraine’s Olha Korobka (167 kgs, or 368 lbs). 

            Gosh, those girls were big!  It was anxious to watch their agility in lifting while carrying around that much body weight. It seemed somewhat impossible.

              I must admit, I knew absolutely nothing about weightlifting.  It seemed straightforward.  If you lifted the most weight, holding the bar upward with feet firmly planted until the green light went on, you won. 

             There was a bit more to it than that.  I spent a long time being confused about what was going on.  Only after returning to the hotel was I able to do an Internet search and figure out what I’d not understood before.

            In weightlifting, there are two categories:  the snatch (one continuous motion to raise the bar above the head), then the clean and jerk (allowing the bar to rest on the shoulders before hoisting it upward).  Both weight scores for both categories are added together for the winner.  In other words, you might not get the highest weight lifted in a snatch but if you pulled off a great clean and jerk, your total could give you the gold.

              Lifters choose their own starting weight they want to lift but once that weight has been added to the bar, it can never go down again for that particular lifter. If an athlete (wich coaches’ advice) chooses too high, he or she won’t be able to make the 3 attempts for snatch or the 3 attempts for clean and jerk, meaning that person is out of the running. 

            The atmosphere was electric when the competition began.  We were all holding our breaths as each girl hoisted seemingly impossible weights upward.  I made sure to cheer on our American, Cheryl Haworth, although she had to bow out early after failing her final attempts.

            The star of the evening was definitely our Korean girl Jang Mi-ran.  In an incredible display of strength, this young woman outdid everyone.  She had us on our feet three times as she broke Olympic and world records three times, bettering herself with each push for success.

             What a night! 

            When it came to her final world record lift, 186 kg (410.1 pounds) for the clean and jerk, she sunk to her knees with tears streaming down her cheeks, her hands clasped in prayer and pressed to her face in utter amazement.  It was such a moving moment for all of us.

             When it came time for the medal ceremony, each Olympian proudly climbed the podium to receive her medal.  The three flags were marched out and dramatically prepared for their hoist skyward. As they were slowly raised to South Korean’s national anthem, silence overtook the crowd.   Our medal winners stood stoically, their faces beaming.

            No matter whose nationality we represented, we spectators were as one.  These young women, with so many years of training and sacrifice, had accomplished their dream.  We all felt very honored and privileged to have shared in their victory. 

            It was definitely a night to remember.

 

            Day 2 in Beijing, however, has proved to be just as surprising and astonishing as Day 1.  Stay tuned for tomorrow’s news about Connie at the Beijing Summer Olympics!

 

            Ping An”, ya’ all!  Have a blessed Sunday.     

           

About connieinchina

I have been in the Asia region for 18 years as an English language teacher. 13 of those have been spent with the Amity Foundation, a Chinese NGO that works in all areas of development for the Chinese people. Amity teachers are placed at small colleges throughout China as instructors of English language majors in the education field. In other words, my students will one day be English teachers themselves in their small villages or towns once they graduate. Currently, this is my second year in Guangxi Province at the 3-year college, Guangxi Normal University for Nationalities. The college is located in smalltown longzhou, 1 hour from the Vietnam border.
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