Monday, August 25, 2008


As I begin this posting, the 2008 edition of the Summer Olympics opened last evening with one of the most spectacular presentations in Olympic history. The Chinese Olympic Organizing Committee created a truly outstanding opening event. While it may have cost in excess of $40 billion dollars, the gigantic creative scale and precise spectacular proved to the world-wide television audience that China has arrived and is able to deliver something special.

While I have only seen the Opening ceremony, I intend to hold off the completion of this piece until the Closing pageantry takes place some sixteen days from now. I will give you my early impressions and then recap a larger, more accurate personal appraisal of the events.

My wife and I have been truly fortunate to attend two different Olympic gatherings, first in Barcelona 1992 and then in Atlanta 1996. In both cases we were blessed to be the guests of NBC in Barcelona and King World Syndication in Atlanta due to our respective positions in the Television business. Both were wonderful, exciting venues that provided life lasting memories. But, the opening night in Beijing blew me away with its discipline, creativity, precision, scale, theme and pageantry – totally capturing the spirit of the Olympic movement.

My early reaction is that China accomplished in one day many goals (planned or unplanned). I also came away with an uneasy feeling that China said to the world…So there…See we can do it… We pulled it off…We have the might…We have the money…We have the power…We have the discipline to do what we set out to do…We have the creative talent for pageantry…Don’t take us for granted…We have the determination…and finally, Don’t screw with us. It will be interesting to see if my reflections change after the closing ceremony.

Let us pray that the Games continue free of terrorist intervention and that the tragic early event (killing of an American Tourist) was a random act of violence which could occur within any country. The smiles on the faces of the participants during the Parade of Nations proved the efficacy of the Olympic movement. National pride is appropriate, but the introduction of political influence detracts from the spirit of the Olympic Games. Personally, I believe if the Olympic athletes ran their countries’ governments we would have less tension, hostility, and a better chance for lasting peace.

Well it is now seventeen days later and the Olympic flame has been extinguished in Beijing. To say that the 2008 Olympics were a success would be a huge understatement, they were unique and spectacularly sent a strong message across the world. The closing ceremony was not as special as the opening, but the Chinese proved to the world-wide audience that they know how to put on a memorable pageant.

Your Commander is physically exhausted having set a personal best record for total hours viewing sporting events and participation in different categories. My Lazy-boy chair has been totally tested and I am sleep deprived having frequently stayed up until the wee hours nightly. Was it worth it? Absolutely.

NBC delivered a superior television product and utilized its unique collection of digital and cable channels effectively. Their talent gave great performances across the board, and I especially applaud the work of Bob Costas, Chris Collingsworth, Jim Lampley and Mary Carrillo. Mary’s insightful background stories gave the viewer a better glimpse of the inside of China and its people. The video High-Definition pictures were spectacular and revealed a China most viewers have never seen.

Special kudos go to my old friend, Dick Ebersol, Chairman, NBC Universal Sports & Olympics. Dick’s experience and creative eye continue to make the Olympic coverage something memorable, exceptionable and profitable for the network and cable entities of this division of General Electric.

NBC should be congratulated for addressing the concerns of the American viewer when it comes to freedom of expression, repression, freedom of the press and other issues we see within China. I thought they handled many sensitive matters well when you consider that China could have taken a much firmer hand toward their coverage. Remember we and NBC were guests of China.

Very special thanks should go to the American Olympians who found a subtle way to send a political message. The U.S. Olympic team captains voted to have Lopez Lomong, one of “The Lost Boys of Sudan” and now a naturalized citizen of the USA, carry the American flag into the stadium for the Opening Ceremony. A similar move occurred at the Closing Ceremony, when fellow U.S. team mate, Khatuna Lorig (born in Tblisi, the capital of Georgia, and also a naturalized citizen) was given the honor of being the flag bearer.

NBC’s long history of presenting the Olympics both winter and summer have again shown the real ability of the television medium to educate, entertain and influence. We have witnessed again just how important television can be to the betterment of mankind (not to mention future tourism to China).

Already, I feel sorry for whoever is responsible for the opening ceremony at the 2012 Olympics in London. How can anyone ever match what we experienced in Beijing? If it were up to me, I wouldn’t know where to start, but would probably rely on something that would remind of the British long-standing special ability for royal-style pageantry.

I have come away from the 2008 Beijing Olympics with a renewed sense of awe in the youth of the world. Every athlete gave their all. Some succeeded and some failed, but good sportsmanship prevailed, with very few exceptions. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the appropriate governing sports federations are to be complimented for taking quick action to address the few violations of doping, and gross unsportsmanlike conduct, such as the Cuban Taekwondo participant who kicked the referee when he learned he had been disqualified from the bronze medal match. His proposed banishment for life from the Olympics and the sport was just and swift.

Special note should be drawn to the many athletes who participated from lesser known countries. They do not have the training venues or financial support that larger, richer nations provide for their athletes. They truly define the Olympic ideal.

While the USA team performed their expected spectacular job, they must be looking over their shoulders, because China proved to the world that they are coming into prominence with a well oiled sports initiative. The USA has a fight on their hands to maintain their position in the world not only economically, but within the sphere of sports.

Your Commander still wonders when he saw Olympic competitors embrace on the podium or field of play from Georgia and Russia, from North Korea and the USA, from Iran and Iraq if the world would not be better off letting our athletes handle our countries’ relationships. Our politicians cannot seem to gather harmoniously, but our world’s athletes seem to find a way when they keep trying for that Gold Medal and are still happy when they achieve a Silver or Bronze Medal, while in many cases just for the opportunity to participate.

The youth of the world keep returning every four years for their summer and winter sports to try and try again. I see an important message for everyone to consider seriously, especially the world’s leaders.


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