Pappas: Beijing Olympics built on a facade

By Nick Pappas, Sports Columnist

The 2008 Summer Olympics ended in the same they began-“perfection.” Billions of dollars can afford that.

The audience was dazzled with bright lights and smiling faces. China was the happy family on the block who always enthusiastically shakes your hand and then takes you on a tour of their new car or boat. Appearances, as they say, can be deceiving. You smile along with the family, but get the feeling that something sordid is going on behind the scenes. No one is that perfect. Anyone trying so hard to portray perfection must be hiding something.

Many reporters who attended the Olympic games marveled at how efficient they were. The New York Times spoke about media hotels, which received floods of buses every 20 minutes-all night long. Perfection takes fuel.

Protest zones were set up for those who wanted to speak out, but no one was allowed a permit. Some were even detained for trying to get one. Visitors would walk by these zones and see them barren, giving the false impression that the atrocities in Tibet had disappeared like fireworks falling from the sky.

The Olympics in Beijing were not about athletic spirit, friendship and peaceful gatherings. The Olympics were about appearances. It was a show put on to convince the world that no nation was greater than China. It was moving and flowing propaganda. It seemed fitting that a major centerpiece of the opening ceremonies was thousands of Chinese people hidden from view in boxes and told to move up and down at scissor-sharp intervals.

China walked away with the most gold medals. Their performance in the events showed clear dominance. Yet, at what cost? In the United States, our athletes achieve greatness through their personal spirit. They are born free and reach toward a goal.

According to an article in the Los Angeles Times titled, “Pressure to succeed weighs heavily on China’s Olympic athletes,” Chinese athletes are pushed to the pyschological and physical limits to know a life of nothing but flips and twirls. A young child’s vision is changed to see only the color gold.

Michael Phelps achieved perfection of his own, but if he had gotten silver in one split-second race, would the United States disown him? U.S. sprinter Tyson Gay ran from one disaster to the next, but we still look at him with admiration, knowing he went farther than any of us will ever go and we’ll shake his hand if we see him.

The United States is about appearances too. We want to be the good neighbor. We want to police the world and tell stories about democracy and freedom. Like China, we just want people to like us. So, in 16 days of Olympics, no one protested. Given the ultimate stage, no one spoke out about human rights. George W. Bush spent more time ogling the asses of beach volleyball players than speaking out about Tibet.

It all feels like a chilling exposition for an inevitable rising action. Anyone who has written a story knows that the best start with is the main character living a normal, perfect existence until the status quo is shattered.

China has seen incredible growth during the last 25 years, but free-market will always go from boom to bust. China continues to discredit human rights because only small, powerless groups seem to care. A few major world leaders speaking out could shatter the window they want us to look through.

So, enjoy the highlights. Buy your 2008 Beijing Olympics DVDs, but don’t forget that behind the stunning fireworks display is a dark, empty sky.

[email protected]

The Associated Press

Fireworks explode during the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2008 Olympics over the National Stadium in Beijing.