Imagining a Better Olympics Opener, Despite NBC


Every four years, I turn into a mushy little kid when the opening ceremonies of the Summer Olympics are broadcast, be it from Beijing, Sidney, Athens or even Atlanta. Ditto for the Winter Olympics, although those games tend to be a little monochromatic.

And every four years, I get a little ticked that I have to listen to the folks at NBC: to have Matt Lauer go through his little book of fun facts when the parade of nations with its many athletes commences or watch interviews of only American athletes, or get a parade of commercials during the parade of nations, letting little countries without a major arsenal pass by during said ads.

I’m as a patriotic as the next immigrant citizen, but do we really have to watch Ryan Seacrest continue NBC’s Phelps gush-a-ton in lieu of more “Rule, Britannia”? Ryan Seacrest? Seriously?

Speaking of ads, was that a Batman ad I spied, and was that maybe a little soon to ca-ching for that movie? And by the looks of all the Cadillacs and Chevies—at what cost per second we can only imagine—General Motors seems to be doing just fine. I so hope we’ve gotten all that bailout money back.

Still, you gotta love it all, even with the presence of Lauer, the too-soon return of Meredith Viera who apparently has Johnny Rotten in the songbook of her life, and even sad to say, the veteran Bob Costas, a shrewd, often witty and eloquent announcer, who lulled himself into clichés sitting besides the droning Lauer. Costas noted that the International Olympic Committee had chosen not to have a moment of silence in honor of the Israeli athletes slain at the 1972 Munich Olympics but offered no opinion on that choice—perhaps because the IOC gets to select recipients of broadcast rights to the Olympics? He also churlishly quipped, after citing a glowing description of Uganda by Winston Churchill, “He probably didn’t know Idi Amin” or some such tripe. And when in the odd segment in honor of Britain’s national health system and children’s literature, we saw a sweeping view of children and hospital beds, Lauer gasped, “It’s bedlam out there.” Perhaps not.

Opening ceremony director, Academy Award winner Danny Boyle (“Slumdog Millionaire”), hooked into the vibrancy of London and the mashier aspects of British history to put on a show that was at once stupendous fireworks, smokestacks rising out of the green soil of England, a quick and smart appreciation of the United Kingdom’s contribution to rock and pop music and a starring role for Queen Elizabeth II, who just got through celebrating 60 years of her reign, outpomping and outcircumstancing Queen Victoria.

Bet you never thought you would see (even if only in a film clip) the queen herself (as opposed to Helen Mirren or Judy Dench as M) greet James Bond (Daniel Craig) in person, while her corgies rolled on the carpet or watched mournfully as mums lifted off in a helicopter. While the queen rarely smiles, as rudely pointed out by our announcers, she appears to know how to laugh at herself, even parachuting out of a helicopter. Or not. It was a splendidly cheeky.

There was a lot of speculation about who would light the Olympic Cauldron. No soccer superstar: neither Roger Bannister nor Ringo Starr. Turned out to be a bunch of young budding Olympians in training, lighting up the future, which was touching.

Former Beatle Paul McCartney played his heart out on “Hey Jude.” Although if you watched NBC, only our American Olympians, completely preppy in Ralph Lauren, and our British hosts heard it, even if none of them had been born when the Beatles ruled the world. Or as a friend’s daughter once said when she was 11 years old: “Did you know that Paul McCartney used to be in a band?”

Here’s what I would have liked to have seen: shots of all those majesties, rulers, kings, queens, prime ministers, presidents or potentates and potato heads that were watching their country’s athletes march jubilantly by—not just first lady Michelle Obama, the unsmiling queen, the splendid Kate and her sleepy husband, the queen of Spain, the once again prime minister of Russia.

Likewise, I’d like to see more of the athletes competing for other nations, because we do live in a global village these days. The Olympics always represent one of the best opportunities for the athletic citizens of that world to interact and present. If we have athletes with the hearts of lions, the looks of models, the courage of tireless heroes, why surely there must be similar types on other teams: archers we have not seen, rowers from Finland, shot putters from one of the former Soviet Union–stan countries, the marathoners from small villages in new countries, the first women athletes from the Middle East. We never or rarely see that on television where the pool tends to be full of Americans, which has a two-man team of Phelps and Lochte, as opposed to the female Chinese swimmer who set a world record.

“Hey Jude” is a wonderful song. But imagine for a moment if the song had been, well, “Imagine,” and the cameras had scanned all the teams, all the faces and you could hear John Lennon singing, “Imagine there’s no countries . . . and no religion too. Imagine all the people…”


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