Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Olympic Fever

A Chinese family forming the Olympic rings at home.

The Beijing Olympiad is approaching its end after a spectacular and thrilling event. This Summer Olympics revealed the great capability of the People's Republic of China in leading the world in both the human race and the technical race too. This is demonstrated by the technology used in the grand opening ceremony, the construction of amazing venues, and the Chinese dominance in winning gold medals.

On another note this Olympics stands out perhaps as the media and public attentions were focused on the swimming events, in which numerous world records were broken. Perhaps most importantly is Michael Phelps new record for the most Olympic gold medals won at a single Olympiad by winning 8 races as well as setting a new record of 14 gold medals, the most Olympic gold medals won by an athlete. On another personal note it was great to see the flag of my country shine and our national anthem heard as Rasheed Ramzy gave the Kingdom of Bahrain its first Olympic gold medal ever by winning the 1500m running race.

That aside, I have to say that the highlight of the tournament for me as an architect was seeing history being written in two beautiful venues that can only inspire athletes to give their heart and soul to be crowned on such wonderful grounds. First of which is the Beijing National Stadium, also known as the Bird's Nest, designed by Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron (perhaps the only architectural firm in the world today with no website). The second venue is the Beijing National Aquatics Center, also known as the Water Cube. Designed by Australian firm PTW Architects, the smooth bubbly cube sits perfectly in front of the Bird's Nest.

The Water Cube and the Bird's Nest during the opening ceremony.

However, despite the magnificence of the opening ceremony, I felt that the design theme for lighting the torch was not the most dramatic one I've seen. The ceremony took into consideration the importance of the human factor in most parts of the ceremony but neglected the most important moment that is lighting the flame. Although seeing a man run in the air around the venue and spend energy in order to light the cauldron is a testament to the importance of the accomplishments of human beings, it somewhat felt like a shallow move since the work is done mechanically by suspended wires and technical controls which takes away the thrill of the margin of error that accompany any human physical activity. Perhaps to clarify my point, it lacked the drama that the 1992 Barcelona Olympics had the moment the torch was lit. Antonio Rebollo, a Spanish archer comes with a bow and a single arrow, lights the arrow with the Olympic flame, stands firmly and confidently focused on one thing, and without any hesitance, shoots the arrow over the cauldron which lights up in flame, and during the whole time everyone was asking the same questions... Is he going to get it?? What happens if he misses?

Another dramatic moment comes to my mind is when Sheikh Mohammed bin Hamad Al-Thani lit up the flame in the opening ceremony of the Doha Asian Games. The sheikh, or knight, is seen on top of an Arabian horse, an animal idealized in the Arabic culture, walking towards a steep and slippery runway. The knight approaches with full confidence and leaps toward the runway racing so high up the ramp to light the flame. Somewhere along the way the horse starts panicking, turning his head away, scared of the height and wanting to go back. Yet the knight reassures the horse that they are in this together until the end, and the horse hesitantly abide his knight. And then in an extremely theatrical scene, the horse slips, but the knight remains confident, and pushes the horse through the last 3 or 4 meters of the ramp reaching the top safely after a journey that showed all spectators what a close relationship that a man and an animal could have.

Here are some wonderful pictures of the opening ceremony of Beijing Olympiad.

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