- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 9, 2008

BEIJING

More than 100,000 people and a worldwide television audience saw firsthand Friday what $50 million can do to an Olympic Opening Ceremony.

Two thousand and eight pounding drummers - the “Fou Formation” - whose sounds cracked off the walls of the “Bird’s Nest” like a thousand bass guitars.

Hundreds of ordinary citizens dressed in colors as loud as lime green and as subtle as cream perfectly performing their routines.

Eight hundred and ninety seven people who trained for 10 months to mimic moveable type, which began here in the first century.

Fifty-six children - from each of the 56 Chinese ethnic groups - carrying the national flag to the middle of the stadium.

All of the pageantry, an equal mix of technology and brawn, created one gigantic sigh of relief for a country and city nervous to have a good start in an effort to prove to the world they are worthy of hosting the globe’s biggest sports festival.

It’s Chinese Olympic organizers 1, Cynics 0.

On a brutally humid night, all of the performances were stirring and the Chinese crowd going “Oh, Oh,” more than ooh-ing and clapping, from the beginning fireworks to the mid-show fireworks to the end-of-show, well, you get the idea.

This was new for most of the spectators, the ones who stood in line last week (some overnight) to snap up the nose-bleed tickets. When competition starts today, every session of every event will be sold out.

They yelled during the deafening fireworks displays that lit up the new stadium. They marveled at the precision of the dancers and acrobats. They smiled when children wielded paint brushes as big as shovels.

The parade of nations, as usual, started with Greece. The outfits of the delegations again included all parts of the spectrum. Bermuda got one person’s nod with jacket, shirt, tie and red shorts. The female athletes from Hungary will want to burn their outfits - white dress with blotches of red flowers that was hideous.

Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong and Pakistan received loud ovations. The United States was the 140th country to walk out of the corner tunnel and for the first time all evening, the response was mixed. It turned even more negative when President Bush was shown on the big screen for the first - and only time - of the event.

Only those who booed know whether they were jeering flag-bearer Lopez Lomong, the Sudanese-born, Kenyan-raised naturalized American who is publicly opposed to China supporting Darfur. The U.S. team captains may have been attempting to make a statement by voting Lomong to carry the flag, which he did with a big smile when he hit the track at 9:25 p.m. local time.

But as remarkable as the program of events was (although a little long, more than four hours), Lomong’s story matches it. It’s a story he told in great detail earlier in the day.

Lomong was born in the Sudan and he was abducted by rebels at age 6. He escaped with help from older prisoners and spent a decade in a Kenyan refugee camp before coming to the United States in 2001. At last month’s trials, he qualified for his first Olympics in the 1,500 meters.

With a public forum to take China to task, Lomong took the high road.

“I’m here as an athlete,” he said. “I’m here to represent my country to the fullest, and I’m here to be an ambassador for my country.”

Lomong did say he was “disappointed” that Team Darfur president Joey Cheek was denied entry into China early in the week.

On one hand, Lomong missed a chance to be critical of China while on Chinese torture and basically have no repercussions for it.

But on the other hand, Lomong did the right thing. If he would have criticized the government, picked a fight with the nation’s citizens, he would have made himself the story, not his background the story.

Less than an hour later, Yao Ming led the Chinese team into the arena to an ovation that lasted several minutes. When it came time to light the torch, the organizers pulled out every stop. Li Ning, a footwear and sporting apparel mogul who won six medals at the 1984 Los Angeles Games, lit the giant cauldron four minutes after midnight.

Now comes the hard part for the Chinese - enjoying a smooth 16 days.

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