|The Water Cube (or the National Aquatic Center) is where swimming and diving events are held.|
So far I have attended several swimming and diving events at the National Aquatic Center–otherwise known as the Water Cube. One of the venues built especially for the 2008 games, the Center is particularly spectacular at night when the exterior “bubbles” can be lit up in various colors. Tickets for diving are among the hottest commodities in Beijing this week, and as expected, the Chinese have dominated so far. Indeed, their divers, some of whom are national heroes, have been almost flawless. But China’s success in the pool hasn’t been limited only to diving, as one of the Chinese women claimed the county’s first-ever swimming world record this week, with a fellow Chinese swimmer winning silver in the same event.
I have been impressed by the good sportsmanship of the Chinese spectators. They certainly are cheering loudly for the Chinese competitors (and at diving they have had a lot to cheer about!) but they also are applauding good performances of athletes from other countries. At the swimming session I attended last night Michael Phelps received an even bigger cheer than the Chinese swimmer who was competing in the same event.
The TV coverage has been a pleasant surprise. China’s Central Television Network (CCTV) is broadcasting the games on 5 different channels. The contrast between their coverage and that provided in the United States by NBC is striking. Yes, the camera work and production have been a bit spotty at times, but the events are being shown live with virtually no commercial interruptions. And instead of seeing only the United States athletes, I can watch all of the competitors–even those (often from tiny countries) who have no chance of winning a medal.
Speaking of tiny countries and medals, my favorite story of this Olympics so far is that of Benjamin Boukpeti, who claimed Togo’s first-ever Olympic medal, winning bronze in the men’s K-1 slalom kayak event. Having been a Peace Corps volunteer there, I know what an event like this can mean to small African country like Togo. No matter that Boukpeti lives and trains in France, I am certain that he will soon be a source of national pride. I know how cool it was for me to see the Togolese flag raised during the medal ceremony; I can only imagine what it must have been like for the Togolese watching on TV. In addition to the “feel good” nature of the Boukpeti story, his success is also a sign of what we could expect from other African athletes, if only they had access to the necessary training facilities and resources.