Monday, August 25, 2008

London Calling


If one word were to sum up the Beijing Olympics, this is it. China put its history, culture, modernity and athletic prowess on display and a dazzled world, for the most part, willingly forgot about politics and basked in the extravagant glow of the host nation’s Olympian dreams and ambitions.

A thought came to mind as the curtain fell on the 29th olympiad: England must not try to duplicate China when it hosts the 2012 Olympics in London. No other country, especially among democracies, can afford to spend $45 billion dollars to host a 2-week sporting event, however prestigious.

Instead of Beijing, a good model for London would be the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Peter Ueberroth, its architect, gave us the first privately financed Olympic Games. He raised $500 million from corporate America and through wise planning, (securing, for instance, the donation of Southern California's playing fields and dormitories and saving the cost of constructing an Olympics village), produced a surplus of nearly $250 million that was later used to promote youth and sports activities throughout the United States. In contrast, the former Soviet Union spent $9 billion for the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

Imitation, Emerson said, is suicide. London will do well simply by being itself. If it can provide the color, food, music, and all the heartaches, improvisations and exhilarations of a messy democracy, and avoid going into debt, the 30th olympiad should be a resounding success. The newly-built venues and stadiums must be converted into usable space - housing, office, hospital - within a month after the Olympics is over, with hopefully green technology leading the way. London must show the world that the host city doesn't have to be saddled with white elephants when the athletes and the visitors leave.

A final observation: Many sportswriters and journalists sent dispatches from Beijing not just of the games and the athletes but also of ordinary people and cuisine and landmarks and the land, but no one captured the spirit of the Olympics more eloquently, and with more pathos and humor, than Anthony Lane of The New Yorker magazine. His “Letter from Beijing” deserves a gold medal of its own.

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