Giant on the move
Beijing 2008: Were these the best Games ever?
The Beijing Olympic Games closed on Sunday, as China passed on the flame to London.
Former IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch was in the habit of describing each Games as “the best ever”, with the notable exception of Atlanta in 1996.
His successor Jacques Rogge does not go in for such superlatives. He described Athens in 2004 as “unforgettable, dream Games” and on Sunday he pronounced the verdict on Beijing, saying they had provided “an exceptional Games”.
Perhaps that was a fitting phrase for an Olympics that began with an opening ceremony on an unparalleled scale and went on to provide highlights that will live on in the memory of all of us.
American swimmer Michael Phelps won eight gold medals, with a little help from his friends on the relay team, to break the record of seven at a single Games, achieved by Mark Spitz in 1972. Usain Bolt took the breath from all of us in the Bird’s Nest stadium when he won the 100 and 200 metres, breaking the world record in each.
Matthias Steiner broke our hearts by offering up his weightlifting gold to the wife he lost in a car crash, while Matt Emmons made us all gasp when for the second Olympics in succession he blew a certain gold medal with a ridiculous mistake on his final shot.
But were they the best Games ever? China provided us with a wonderful experience at and away from the venues and I will never forget the friendliness of the legions of volunteers, and the ordinary Chinese people too.
One thing that did get me after a while is that this was a Games that was taken extremely seriously, by everyone (apart from Usain Bolt).
Faster, Higher, Stronger goes the Olympic motto, and China seemed determined to host a Games with those goals in mind. They did it too, but I sometimes longed for an Eric the Eel in the pool, or even a cock-up in the organisation, just to prove that not even the Chinese are perfect when it comes to running a big event.
The short segment given to London 2012 during the closing ceremony promised a much more modest scale and perhaps a touch of irony and self-deprecation, what with the umbrellas and a double decker bus. I almost expected Austin Powers to come somersaulting out.
For now, though, let’s focus on China. The Games were brilliant, but were they the best ever? Please let us know in the comments.
PHOTO: Fireworks explode during the closing ceremony of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games at the National Stadium, August 24, 2008. REUTERS/Claro Cortes