Sunday, February 21, 2010

48 - International Relations

It's been argued that the Olympics serves the politicians.  If the Games strive to create an equal playing fields for athletic endeavour, they also create a massive stratification among the visitors and viewing public.  A rigid caste system if you will, with the politicians and the elite unabashedly recieving preferential treatment and the rich taking the best seats. The rest of us are shoehorned into the corners of the rafters by zealous security workers.

I won't argue against that view, as that fits what I have seen so far at the 2010 Vancouver Games.  But that says so little about the magic of the Games for all the people.  It's not about the tickets we get or the seats we occupy for a couple of hours at a time, or even the money spent, although that's a serious consideration. 

Case in point is this photo I snapped of Chinese speedskater Zhou Yang after she set an Olympic speed record for her 1500 meter final.  Just look at how this tiny athelete stretches up on her tiptoes to hug her coach, who herself has climbed onto the sideline padding.  Such undiluted emotion!

Here's the point of this photo, which you can't see.  Stuffed onto public transit, we met/were forced alongside a very pleasant couple of young Chinese nationals.  We struck up a limited conversation, as their English was hesitant, and our command of Chinese falters when called upon to go beyond the confines of a dim-sum menu. 

My wife hit upon the idea of showing the other couple the pictures we took of Zhou winning her event.  We exchanged e-mails, and now we will be sending this same picture to our new friends in Beijing, Pen-yi and Simon. 

Maybe our politicians get wrapped up in statemanship and profiteering when guiding international policy.  At the grassroots level, though, all we needed to make a meaningful connection was a simple digital photograph. 

Here's another example:

At first glance, a photo of some ordinary fans.  "J.R. Rocks" refers to J.R. Celski, the American short-track speedskater.  Shepherded by VANOC volunteers onto a bus, we were crowded into these women, where we quickly discovered that they were from the United States.  "So you must be pleased about Apolo Anton Ohno (the famous USA skater who took bronze in his event)," we asked, so naive!  We got a sour look in reply, and a closer look at their tee shirts.  "Well, yes Ohno was okay, but we were cheering for J.R.". 

The same J.R. who got disqualified for tangling up with Canadian François Hamelin?  I nearly asked aloud... 

On the way to the bus, past a ranged line-up of security workers who seemed eager for all of us to clear on out of the stadium, we also met the family of said  François Hamelin.  I declined to photograph them as they seemed very downcast at the results of the finals:  niether François nor his brother Charles made it onto the podium today. 

International relations can be difficult! 

Nonetheless, J.R.'s family was gracious about how the race ended up, and they were very well-spoken about their family star.  He is a young phenomenon who in 2009 had his thigh slashed right to the bone in a terrible skating accident.  His doctors doubted he would walk again, let alone skate. 

And here we are, packed into a diesel bus like sardines in a can, swapping stories about sports and digital camera photos, and a dozen other pleasant things that people discuss when they find out they share a common ground.

Let the bigwigs and the bluebloods keep their skyboxes and their IOC-sponsored liveried servants.  We just made the connection from Beijing to Vancouver to Seattle, all for the price of a bus ticket.