SPORTS

NOTES FROM BEIJING

Eight is a lucky number in China. August 8, 2008, at 8 p.m. China’s time has come. And in a manner that has been neither subtle nor poetic. It arrived like a loud clap of thunder from the drums of 2,008 silver-clad drummers. After seven years of anticipation that climaxed this past week, this country was making a statement that a new era is coming. Most of the journalists I spoke to this morning at the Main Press Center were fairly impressed. «Stunning,» «striking,» «spectacular» were some of the words used to describe Friday night’s opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. I phoned Marco Balich, who is spending his summer vacation with his family on the island of Cephalonia. Marco has a connection with the ceremonies, albeit an indirect one. He is CEO of FilmMaster, a Milan-based company that organized a similar event for the winter Olympics in Torino in 2006. His business partner is Ric Birch, a renowned producer who has earned the nickname «Master of the Ceremonies» since he was responsible for the Los Angeles, Barcelona and Sydney Games. Marco and Ric worked together in Torino, but in Beijing Ric is an artistic adviser to Zhang Yimou. «It was grand, elegant and impeccable. But as far as emotion goes, something was missing,» Marco told me. There was no doubt that the quality of the performance and the use of new technology have set a new standard for the Games to come. But as the lack of narrative was obvious, the ceremony appeared more like a series of brilliantly executed segments with no single heart-warming moment. Apparently the spectacle worked better for the TV audience than the spectators in the lower half of the stadium. Fireworks exploded in the sky far from the stadium, but British journalists returning from Tiananmen Square told me that it was curiously dark and without any crowds watching on large screens as you would expect. Some TV broadcasters were left fuming when their microphones «died» immediately after the start. Other than that, the whole endeavor went off without a hitch. Stratos Safioleas was the international media manager for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens