BEIJING ” A day of sightseeing, tying up loose financial ends at the hotel and saying farewell to friends old and new throughout the day, the odyssey that started on the morning of Aug. 2 at Dulles will conclude Tuesday around 7:30 p.m. back at the airport.
Succinctly, it’s unlike any other sporting event. The Super Bowl and Kentucky Derby are a week long, and only one event takes place - everybody is ready for the game by Wednesday. The Olympics is 16 days of competition from sunrise to sundown. The NCAA basketball tournament is three weekends and 64 teams but with three-day breaks in between. The Olympics is relentless.
But it was an adventure and an experience for the ages. Here’s an A-to-Z review of the Beijing Olympics:
A is for Affordable: The only eatery to charge the equivalent of American prices was the McDonald’s at the Main Press Center. The bars around town and certainly the restaurants would serve drinks and heaping portions of food for roughly half of what it cost in the United States.
B is for Barter: Here’s hoping the Target in Ashburn, Va., now allows customers to negotiate the prices. That’s what you do in Beijing. Just about everything doesn’t have a price tag, so when the employee punches in their request on a calculator, the bartering begins. And if you’re in possession of Olympic pins? Knock off another 20 RMB.
C is for Cabbies: Chinese cab drivers appeared to get dumber as the three weeks went on. The general conspiracy theory was that Americans would pay the fare no matter how lost they got and would throw in a tip no matter how lost they got.
D is for Debacle: The sprint events for the United States were just that. When it comes to the 100, 200 and the 400 relay, the Americans shouldn’t settle for silver or bronze. The United States was 0-for-6 in those events and didn’t medal in the women’s 100 and 4x100 relay and the men’s 4x100 relay.
E is for events: The rundown on sports attended - athletics (track), badminton, basketball, football (soccer), gymnastics, softball, swimming, tennis, table tennis, volleyball and water polo.
It’s interesting to be at a major sporting event and not see the Worldwide Leader all over the place.
F is for Food: The adventurous eating ended quickly, a product of getting sick and having no time during the actual games. The cafeteria was one-stop shopping for pasta, salads, sandwiches and pizza.
G is for Gay: Tyson Gay failed to get out of the 100-meter semifinals and was a part of a baton mix up during the 4x100 relay.
H is for Hugh: Two weeks after his father-in-law was stabbed to death in an attack and mother-in-law was seriously injured, U.S. volleyball coach Hugh McCutcheon helped his team to a gold medal for the first time in 20 years. That should be the story of the games’ third weekend.
I is for India: Early in the games, 10-meter air rifle shooter Abhinav Bindra won the nation’s first individual Olympic gold medal. Now that’s something to put on a Wikipedia entry.
J is for Jing-Min Hotel: The beds were hard (which didn’t become a problem until the last part of the stay), the bathroom flooded during every shower and there wasn’t an ice machine for miles.
K is for Kobe: The most popular non-Chinese athlete at the games was Kobe Bryant. Playing in his first games, Bryant delivered a consistent performance in helping the United States to a gold medal.
L is for Lenovo: The Chinese personal computer maker was tremendous during the games and was able to replace the “Enter” key on a laptop in about five minutes.
M is for Mixed Zone: A truly miserable experience. Writers are stationed behind metal barriers, and athletes are asked to stop for interviews. The worst were swimming, water polo, track and basketball.
N is for Nastia: At the Olympic Media Summit this spring and certainly at the trials in June, gymnast Nastia Liukin came off as a little stuffy. That turned out to be wrong. Obviously, winning medals brightens anybody’s outlook, but even when she was jobbed out of gold in the uneven bars because of a tiebreaker rule, she was the epitome of professionalism. Here’s hoping she’s around in 2012.
O is for O’Halloran: The second member of the family to reach Asia (first to visit China). Sir Scribble’s father served in Vietnam well before 2008.
P is for Phelps: Michael Phelps won eight gold medals (seven world records) to break Mark Spitz’s 36-year-old record of seven golds. Enough said.
Q is for Quality: The bus transportation was never more than five minutes late. The organizing committee’s estimates on how long a trip would take rarely were more than 10 minutes off.
R is for Redskins: 47-3?
S is for Silk: The famous Silk Market is chaotic but is cleaner and more like a department store than expected. The goodies there were affordable.
T is for Television: A plea to the International Olympic Committee and NBC’s Dick Ebersol. In future foreign-soil Olympics, offer an olive branch to provide live English-language coverage of the Olympics. BBC News was the only option at the hotel, and they couldn’t show any highlights.
U is for Usain: The unquestioned star of the Olympics’ second week, Usain Bolt won three gold medals - 100 meters, 200 meters, 4x100 relay - all in world record times.
V is for Vancouver: It hosts the Winter Olympics in 16 months and has pledged to have its events in smaller venues that will prevent no-shows. Hockey, skiing, snowboarding, speedskating and bobsled are all interesting events.
W is for WWE: There have been three “Monday Night Raw” shows plus the Summer Slam pay-per-view since this trip began. Anybody interested in recapping the events can send an e-mail to email@example.com.
X is for X-citing: The most thrilling events were the men’s 400 swimming relay, Phelps’ 100 butterfly win, the U.S. women’s water polo team’s gold medal loss, the men’s volleyball gold medal win and Bolt’s exploits.
Y is for Young: It will take only an exceptional investigative report and/or some flapping lips from the Chinese side, but the ages of the country’s women’s gymnasts needs to be addressed. They simply looked younger than the allowable age of turning 16 in an Olympic year.
Z is for Zimbabwe: She lives in the United States, but one of the lower-publicized stars of the first week was Zimbabwe swimmer Kirsty Coventry. She always seemed to be competing in a final.