The Olympics Beat
By Shannon Young
My favorite was the Opening Ceremony, a celebration full of colors and lights and symbolism I didn’t understand. During the four-hour production, I’d bounce back and forth between the TV and the kitchen (for snacks), eager to see what each country’s athletes would be wearing that year.
When I had the opportunity to attend an Olympics in person, I jumped for it like I was in the pole vault finals. The 2008 Beijing Games occurred just before my senior year of university, just when my college had given me a fellowship to study anything I wanted. It was the perfect time to become one of the faces in the stands. I expected it to be like watching on TV times ten. I was wrong.
In real life, we stood in endless lines, wandered lost through Beijing drenched in sweat, and froze inside the over air-conditioned venues. We couldn’t see the outfits in the Parade of Nations up close and we had no commentary to help us understand what was going on. It was awesome.
The Olympics in real life are less comfortable than the highlights-only version on TV, but you are immersed in the action. You see the lesser-known competitors in their moments of triumph. You see the mistakes, the frustrations, the little victories. When one of the athletes does something amazing, people jump up and wave their flags in front of you; they scream in your ears and fill your body with pure adrenalin. You are part of the moments, sometimes close enough to smell the sweat and see the tears.
When the events are over, instead of watching a special about the culture of the host city, you walk out into the middle of it. Jostled by hawkers, assisted by volunteers, courted by waiters, you join in the lives of those people for a week or two. You taste the spices, warm your fingertips on the teacups, and immerse yourself in the tones of words you don’t understand.
Being at the Olympics is a whole body experience that is both powerful and intimate. You are connected to the people filling the seats around you, the watchers behind the forest of cameras, and the hosts eager to impress you with their city and their culture. Furthermore, you are connected to the Olympians and spectators in Olympic cities throughout history.
As a spectator, you won’t be the focus of a TV special or a medal ceremony. No one will know your name or remember you were there, but you helped to create the energy and passion that make the Olympics worth watching.
About the Author
The Olympics Beat: A Spectator’s Memoir of Beijing. A graduate of Colgate University in New York, Shannon writes a blog called A Kindle in Hong Kong, which features her walking tours, book reviews, and bookspotting adventures. She recently finished writing a travel memoir about the year she followed a man she met at a fencing club to Hong Kong, only for him to be sent to London a month later.
Visit Shannon’s website to see original photos from Beijing illustrating each chapter of this story.
The Olympics Beat: A Spectator’s Memoir of Beijing
The drama, the variety, the spectacle - Shannon can't get enough of it. She is an American student who has always been fascinated by the Olympic Games; her father has a lifelong love affair with China. They team up for the Beijing games and the adventure of a lifetime. Without the filter of a small screen, Shannon and her dad are hypnotized by the passion of a great nation unveiling itself to the world. This mini travel memoir is a picture of a new China and the experiences that would change one American girl's life forever.
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