BEIJING, via satellite -- As the XXIX Olympiad has drawn to close, I can now see the many lessons that I have learned from watching the dedicated and hardworking athletes who have endured the rigors of world-class competition. First and foremost being that if you spend two solid weeks watching TV night and day, even using the modern miracle of TIVO, you don't have time to write a proper column. So, this is what you guys get: An Olympic collection of odds and ends, mostly odds.
So, ascend with me to the top of Mount Vesuvius, where the first Olympics were held (and thus the tradition of opening ceremony fireworks), and from there we can look across the glowing moments the Olympic fortnight has brought to us.
Introducing the Chinese calendar
He, Jiang and Yang are young, too young. This is something we as Americans have a hard time understanding. We understand too old, as in the faked birth certificates for "Little" League baseball players that we see on a regular basis. (One year the joke was that the championship Taiwanese team hurried back to Taiwan to be with their families -- their wives and children, that is.)
In female gymnastics, it seems, you do want them little but not too little.
Fortunately, for the Chinese Olympic team, with the Chinese calendar you can be born on one date in 2004, 2005 and 2006 and then on another in 2007. You can be (as was gymnast He Kexin) reported to be by China’s official Xinhua news agency nine months ago 13 years old, then turn the requisite 16 years old this year.
This calendar system, perhaps, may also explain why the Chinese celebrate New Year's at the wrong time.
He's on first
The Olympics provide us with an opportunity to share common experience but sometimes they can be very hard to explain to those who don't follow as closely as you do. One example is solo synchronized swimming (sadly since dropped from Olympic competition). Try explaining that event to anyone -- whether they have seen solo synchronized swimming in action or not.
Another difficulty came recently, for me, when I was watching girls' gymnastics and He was competing and I was trying to tell my lovely and sports-loving wife about it.
Me: "You should come watch this, He's competing."
Her: "Who's competing?"
Me: "He's competing."
Her: "You said that already. So who's competing?"
Me: "No, He's competing and you need to hurry because He's on first. Hu's not competing; Hu's the president of China."
Her (still yelling down from the top of the stairs): "Well, OK, so how's he doing?"
Me: "I don't know. Who are you talking about?"
Her: "The guy you said who was competing."
Me: "There is no guy competing. This is women's gymnastics. He's a she."
Me: "He's not a he, she's a she,"
Her: "I thought you just said He's a she."
Me: "I did. Just come down and watch."
Her: "I will -- just as soon as you tell me the Panthers-Redskins game is coming on."
. . . And now from behind a desk somewhere
NBC Olympics anchor desk attendant Jim Lampley, looked to be chained to his desk 24-7. I speculated that he had no legs. Austin, my Olympics viewing teammate, without whom I would not been able to accomplish what I accomplished during the XXIXth Olympiad, said that wasn't so. "He just doesn't have any pants on."
Lampley, who may or may not have ever been to Beijing, did have, without a doubt, the best quote of the Olympiad, saying, after showing a video replay of a Cuban martial-arts participant, who when he was disqualified sucker punched the referee with a kick-boxing move: "The first rule of Tae Kwon Do: You can't kick the referee in the head."
. . . And to Ireland goes the gold for vanity plates
The vanity license plate of the week: UROPEAN
Who, what, where or why? (a) A car owned by a European. (b) A car owned by urologist. (c) A European car owned by someone who speaks English as second language.
Answer: All of the above
It's in the Hollow Rock parking lot, on a new BMW sports car owned by Irish-speaking, Duke-trained urologist Niall J. Buckley. And, if you visit Niall at his office, remember to drink plenty of fluids.
Gary D. Gaddy never competed in the Olympics but did well at field day in the rarely performed 600 yard run at George Washington High School circa 1966.
A version of this story was published in the Chapel Hill Herald Thursday August 28, 2008.Copyright 2008 Gary D. Gaddy