The Olympics

So that’s the ‘greatest show on earth’ over for another our years until the Olympic Games open in London in 2012. What a lot of people (particularly anti-Olympic whingers in the UK) fail to realise is that the venues for an Olympic Games can be split over a wide variety of locations, and don’t have to be centred around the main stadium. Beijing 2008 is a prime example of this with the rowing, sailing, and cycling taking place considerable distances away from Beijing. I mention these three sports as it turns out the UK did rather well in these disciplines. There was much fun to be had winding up the Aussies over here that Team GB were ahead (and finished ahead) of Australia in the overall medal table. Getting retaliation in first for the Ashes next year really.

Hong Kong also had the privilege of being a host venue. Hong Kong was hosting the equestrian events at Sha Tin which is where the larger of the two racecourses is in Hong Kong. Essentially the event was being hosted by the Hong Kong Jockey Club who run Sha Tin racecourse. According to the various buses emblazoned with the Beijing 2008 advertising they were ‘sharing the spirit, sharing the dream’ or something like that. The truth is actually that equine disease is apparently rampant in mainland China, and getting the large numbers of international horses in and out of China would have been a nightmare. The obvious solution was to ‘share the Olympic spirit’ with Hong Kong. Despite that, it has been wonderful to be located in a host venue. Plenty of Olympic logos, banners, merchandising has been around, and a lot of teams chose to base themselves out of Hong Kong and Macau to prepare for Beijing. I’m not sure the Australian reason of avoiding the air pollution in Beijing had quite the ring of truth to it though…

Fortunately the GB, New Zealand, and Canadian hockey teams had decided to play some pre-Olympic matches in Macau and Hong Kong so I was able to see some international hockey here. Despite playing in very hot and humid conditions the game pace was significantly higher than usual, and was great fun to watch. GB beat New Zealand 3-2, and Canada beat a Hong Kong league Barbarians team 4-0. Just a shame GB were a bit inconsistent in Beijing and only drew against Canada… However, 5th place overall was probably what they aimed for originally. I could have got tickets for some of the equestrian events in Hong Kong, but horsey things really aren’t my idea of fun, so chose not to go. From reports here it seems dressage definitely wasn’t the local’s cup of tea either with lots of the spectators leaving during the course of the day(s) that it was on.

An idea that had been floated by some guys in the hockey club had been to go up to Beijing and try and get tickets ‘on the street’. Typically this has been fairly easy at previous Olympics, and tickets weren’t registered against names. So, in theory this should have been possible. Except that leading up to the Games Chinese visas became more expensive and harder to get. You could only get a single entry visa (not an issue of itself), and buying tickets on the street is illegal. This is the main reason I chose not to go. Being caught by the Chinese police illegally buying tickets probably wouldn’t be viewed to well, and seeing the inside of a Beijing police cell is way down my list of things to do whilst I’m here. Still, there’s always tv… or so you’d think.

Television coverage here was absolutely rubbish compared to the BBC. Whilst in the UK you can get BBC coverage via terrestrial, digital, and the web, in Hong Kong the rights were held by one terrestrial channel (we don’t have the equivalent of ‘Freeview’ here) and some channels on a cable television provider. Unfortunately, I get television delivered via broadband, not cable, and worse, my flat does not seem to have a terrestrial socket anywhere. Basically, I had no Olympic coverage at home. This wasn’t a disaster, as to be honest, there were only a small number of events I was actually concerned about watching. Notably GB hockey matches and some athletics. Online TV schedules suggested that GB v Holland would be screened on terrestrial live on a Wednesday night. Having arranged to watch this with friends in a pub on the night, it’s somewhat disappointing to be faced with coverage of lots of sports featuring China… Yes, I know, I’m in China and it’s kind of to be expected to follow the ‘home nation’. However, most of these events weren’t live, and what’s the point of a schedule? Clearly a work of fiction. We did get the last 25 minutes of the match, which included the solitary goal, unfortunately for the Dutch… bah.

The overall feeling in Hong Kong was that the local population became a lot more pro-China than usual. Particularly the local media in Hong Kong. There is a free press in Hong Kong which for the main part either looks to Beijing for direction or is blatantly pro-Beijing. During the last few weeks though it’s felt like all the media are taking a more pro-Beijing line than usual. The Chinese goal to ‘beat’ the US at the medal count has also been felt quite obviously. Although, I did get the impression that (to a certain extent anyway) it felt that only gold really mattered. For example, a shopping centre I sometimes get lunch at had a big screen showing sports during the day with seats in front so people could watch and cheer etc. They also had a medal counter below this screen… except it was counting only the golds. (for China in case that’s not obvious) The Americans then used the sneaky tactic of counting total medals won to show USA at the top of the medal table…

It’s been great to be in the right timezone for these Games and in order to get a fix of Olympic action I ended up downloading some of the BBC Olympics Today highlights programs so I got to see the major moments I think. I also managed to catch some of the closing ceremony in a mainly expat bar on Sunday night. Biggest cheer definitely had to be Boris Johnson receiving the Olympic flag.

As per my last post, there was indeed a storm on the way. The T8 signal was hoisted on Friday morning at 7:40am which meant no requirement to go into work that day. I think I received my first invite to the pub by about 11:00am. We did actually get a T9 for about 11 hours, but it never really got violent on Hong Kong island. A few trees blown down or requiring removal afterwards seemed to be about the extent of it. Still, a day ‘off’ work is not to be criticised.

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