The Olympics, it seems, have arrived, and Athens,
despite global reports to the contrary, is ready. The venues are beautiful,
the volunteers are helpful, and in one of the world's most congested cities,
I zoom to work each morning in a designated Olympic lane without hassle or
problem. It cost an unprecedented amount of money, and survived the most
intense security of any Olympics, but Athens is ready to welcome the world
with its arms wide open. With tonight's Opening Ceremony, and its celebratory
Parade of Nations, the Games will begin. For us in the Research Room, of course,
the Olympics have already begun, with soccer matches having already taken
place in the past few days. The four-hour telecast of the Opening by NBC
should give viewers a sense of the spectacle that the beginning to every Olympics
has become - 202 national delegations, thousands of athletes, and a theatrical
presentation by Greece designed to acquaint the world with Greek heritage
and history. While much is known about what will actually take place during
the Opening, it is likely best enjoyed without any sense of what is supposed
to happen. It will culminate, of course, with teams marching into the stadium,
their respective flags flying proudly, often dressed in outfits designed
to express their national and ethnic identities. Many of these athletes, of
course, have done this many times before. Canadian Ian Millar, for example, will be making his eighth appearance
in the equestrian competition, while his teammate, Cindy Ishov, is making her fourth. American track star
comes to the Olympics for her fifth time,
while Jamaican sprinter Merlene Ottey
- who is competing for Slovenia
this time around - marks her seventh Olympic appearance in Athens. Canoeist
Birgit Fischer of Germany has won seven gold medals in her previous
five appearances, and hopes to add to that haul in Athens. While we keep
our eyes on these "old-timers", however, it is important to remember that
many others are making their Olympic debuts, and while a medal is not in
the cards for most of them, the Opening Ceremony shows why they work so hard
just to get here.
I spent most of the Opening Ceremony inside the International
Broadcast Center, scrambling around to ensure that the writers, producers,
and talent had what they needed, and coordinating with those in the stadium.
I did, however, run outside to see the spectacular fireworks that ended the
The Parade of Nations was a spectacular - if long - display of identity,
color, and culture, particularly when the Iraqi athletes entered the stadium
to warm rounds of applause. Their appearance here is one of much international
effort, perhaps exemplified by the Australian defense force that Bob Costas mentioned during the telecast.
The Aussies airlifted the team out of Baghdad and delivered them safely to
these Games, their first without Uday Hussein
as head of the Iraqi Olympic, and without physical consequences for poor
performances. An even more enthusiastic reception awaited the
Greek team, led by a flag-carrying weightlifter Pyrros
Dimas, the 3-time Olympic gold medalist. "Welcome Home,"
indeed - the Games had returned to their birthplace.
However, in the midst of the thousands of athletes assembling together,
a visible reminder of the consequence of global politics emerged in the Research
Room: a rumor began to circulate that the athlete designated to carry
Iran's flag, judo world champion Arash Miresmaeili,
was going to withdraw because the competition draw pitted him against Ahud Vaks, an Israeli. Iran's policy
dictates, allegedly, that its athletes are forbidden from engaging in athletic
competition with Israelis. Iran has, of course, refused to recognize
the state of Israel since 1979, but Olympic competition, ideally, does not
recognize such practices. It makes one think about what really is at
stake on judo mat, in the swimming pool, and on a track.
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