China starts as it means to finish

The Olympic Games can mean many things to the host country. It can be a big expense, a source of marketing or a huge microscope for the world.

However one thing is certain. No matter where the country stands one of the world’s biggest global spectacles inspires people to show national pride.

On Friday the globe observed Olympic host China kick off the Games in grand fashion. With plenty of pageantry and pyrotechnics the ceremony left no doubt how China felt about hosting the Games.

The ceremony was a breathtaking affair. The barrage of some 30,000 fireworks was astonishing, the parade of countries was captivating and the stunt of the year headlined it all.

Chinese gymnast and triple gold medallist from the 1984 Olympics Li Ning ensured his name in the history books with a breath-taking stunt.

Ning soared to the top of the stadium, supported by just a few wires and circled around the circumference. Using his torch he sent flames up to a monstrous caldron looming over the stadium that contained the Olympic flame.

And then there’s the introduction of the 600 plus Chinese Olympians. The crowd issued a deafening roar as NBA star Yao Ming led the athletes while waving the Chinese flag.

By his side was a nine year old schoolboy who survived May’s fatal earthquake in the Sichuan Province that killed nearly 70,000 natives.

I’ve seen a few Games in my time and caught a couple of ceremonies. But nothing quite compares to this year’s extravaganza. Who could have envisioned dramatics along the lines of airborne gymnasts or rivers of fireworks?

I also came away utterly impressed with the procession of countries around the stadium. True some of the squads could have taken things a little more serious but I didn’t mind the little bit of humour.

I must say that I felt a great amount of pride seeing Cayman introduced. It was fantastic seeing our local athletes proudly displaying our national flag to a loud cheer.

For me the ceremony not only served to open the Games but also the country to the world. Until now China was a reclusive part of humanity that kept its national programmes and developments under heavy wraps. But now everyone has a chance to see and experience what all lies behind the Great Wall.

In fact some of the so-called ‘leaders of the free world’ were in attendance. Among them was George Bush, the first US president to attend an Olympics on foreign soil.

On the other hand the world is no stranger to huge Olympic openings. They are traditionally a show in and of themselves.

In Athens four years ago the drumming duel and rise of the Olympic rings out of a pool are part of the lasting images of that year.

In Sydney the 2000 Olympic Games will forever conjure images of the 100 odd horsemen who galloped into the national stadium and the dance routines of the Aborigines and local teenagers.

Nevertheless, this year’s ceremony was one of the best the world has ever seen. For sure the organizers would be among the first people to agree.

Some 91,000 people came out to see the spectacle and it’s estimated that some four billion people across the world tuned in on television.

Already Olympic historians are saying the ceremony was the largest, though costliest, in history.

That certainly is music to the ears of the Chinese government. Heading up to the opening ceremony they devoted $40 million to building the necessary infrastructure and more still repairing the damage from May’s deadly earthquake in the Sichuan Province.

Bear in mind also that the Chinese government also faced many global concerns. The Games met much consternation from those worried over the level of pollution in the country or the safety of athletes as many demonstrations and calls for boycotts led up to Friday.

At the end of the day, the Olympics will serve as a celebration of sports worldwide and of China. For a country primed to be the next superpower China sure did come out in style.

By the end of the Games their emergence could take on a double meaning. With so many highly-trained athletes in such a vast amount of sports, China could possibly supersede the US for having the most overall medals.

Therefore I would encourage everyone to watch the Games as much as possible. I know getting up early everyday to see it would be a step. But major cable networks, like NBC, are broadcasting the day’s action at night.

The Olympics may be about sports and putting one country on a grand display. But the bigger picture to me is witnessing the peaceful gathering of all nations in the world.

Ultimately, the opening ceremony was truly the start of a very special global event. With such a fairytale beginning already in the books there’s a good chance there will be legendary endings to come..