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This must be what it’s like to enter the Stadium at a Super Bowl. The feeling that this event is special, and that you’re kind of privileged to be able to attend.

You snake through the line, thankful the freezing winds off the mountains are not blasting through the valley. You go swiftly through security, have your ticket scanned, and begin the walk to the Stadium. You pass by exhibition areas of some of the TOP sponsors, like Coca Cola and Omega. You make your obligatory stop at the gift shop given the name to suit the moment – The Super Store. And then you file into the Stadium.

It’s not a massive stadium. In the shape of a pentagon, all spectators look down on an oval arena. When I got to my seat in the fairly narrow seat rows, doing the movie theater shuffle – “excuse me ma’am, sorry sir,” I removed the bag full of PyeongChang Olympic swag that was on everyone’s seats, and sat down.

If you came to see everything close and personal, then you shouldn’t have gone to the event. Even the big screen televisions were relatively small and on the whole not helpful. Understandable in a way since the Stadium will be torn down right after the Olympics – temporary venues are significantly cheaper to build than permanent ones.

Most of the spectators were seated an hour in advance of the start, and the pre-ceremony MCs got us started by having us practice a count down from ten to one in Korean, and practice K-Pop dance moves to keep us warm. There were volunteers in red scattered throughout the Stadium to model the dance moves. The one about 15 meters from where I was sitting was particularly committed. He danced enthusiastically during the entire march of nations, which lasted about an hour!

Volunteer Dancing All Night
Volunteer dancing all night

On occasion I could see to my distant right a group of women clad in red – the famed North Korean cheering squad. But just to keep geo-political balance, a man who looked suspiciously like President Donald J. Trump would parade by the walkway in front of our section.

Trump in the House
Trump in the House

For much of the ceremony, there wasn’t a bad seat in the house. My seat was directly across from the entry part for the marching athletes, so it was central. And yet when it came time to light the cauldron with the Olympic flame, I had to crane my neck all the way to the right. I got to see how beautiful Yuna Kim was as she skated at the top of the Stadium this morning when I watched the clip on YouTube, but what I was able to see was a slightly blurry view through my iPhone which I was able to position so that I could see what was happening on the phone’s screen.

I couldn’t really see the lighting, but I could see the burst of fire, the explosions of fireworks, and the cheers of the crowd in an intense personal way that cannot be experienced on the screen. And then began the incredible in-Stadium fireworks display that stuns you with its proximity.

And then the ceremony was done.

 

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My seat in proximity to the Olympic Cauldron

 

I filed out with the masses, fairly quickly. I wasn’t so cold, as I was bundled properly, but I was hungry and fish soup awaited on the first floor. As I slurped a late snack, I noticed a commotion. The North Korean cheering squad had made their way down the stairs and were lined up in rows. While hugely popular in North Korea, it is unlikely they have ever been surrounded by so many South Koreans and foreigners with cameras and phones.

People who never imagined to be so close to a North Korean, let alone dozens of young attractive North Korean women, snapped and selfied away. I noticed just before they left, and somehow while holding my soup bowl in one hand, I took two quick pictures with my SLR in the other. Fortunately, one was in focus, proof of my personal encounter with the enemy.

Chance Meeting with the North Korean Cheering Squad
Chance Meeting with the North Korean Cheering Squad

All pictures and videos were taken by the author.

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Opening Ceremony Maracana Stadium 2016August 5_New York Times
New York Times

The Debutante Ball is over. And Brazil is looking very good.

Despite all the issues that have arisen in Brazil in the run-up to August 5 – the impeachment of its President on corruption charges, the collapse of its economy, the constant news of the polluted Guanabara Bay, the shocking news of the impact of the zika virus, rumbles of possible riots by the underclass – the opening ceremonies at Maracanã Stadium went off pretty much without a hitch.

And there were a few big moments. Let me focus on three:

Sex: Carlos Nuzman is the president of the Rio Organizing Committee, and former member of the International Olympic Committee. He and his teammates likely helped inspire generations of volleyball fans in 1964 when he was on the men’s Brazilian team in Tokyo, where the sport debuted as an Olympic event. There he was on his country’s biggest stage on Friday, bubbling with excitement, exorcising all of the repressed worries he told countless people in the press not to be concerned with.

We never give up, we never give up. Let’s stay together when differences challenge us.

But to add a bit of spice to the formality of the opening speeches, Nuzman made one of those slips of tongue that the head of the IOC will never forget. Nuzman was responsible for introducing Thomas Bach, and said it was his honor “to hand over to the president of the IOC, the Olympic champion Thomas Bach, who always believed in the sex…success of the Rio 2016 Games.”

OK, Bach will always cherish that moment I’m sure…and it’s what’s on the mind of half the athletes at the moment anyway. (It’s been heavily reported that 450,000 condoms have been made available in the Olympic and Paralympic villages.)

Beauty: I’m a Jets fan. I hate Tom Brady. That goes with the territory. While Brady is one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the NFL, an instant hall of famer, his wife is arguably even more famous globally. Super Model, Gisele Bündchen, who was born in in Southern Brazil, travelled to London at 17. She was plucked out of the crowd of wannabes to make it on the catwalk for designer Alexander McQueen. From that point, Bündchen was a star, becoming a mainstay on the cover of Vogue and the body of Victoria’s Secret.

And so, in a moment of exquisite simplicity, the organizers brought together Brazil’s most famous song and its most famous face. First the crowd heard the massively familiar bossa nova rhythm and melody of The Girl from Ipanema, performed by Daniel Jobin, the grandson of the music’s writer, Antonio Carlos Jobim. From the other end of the stadium emerged the super model, coming out of retirement to make her final catwalk. Probably her longest catwalk ever, Bündchen sashayed some 150 meters across the entire stadium floor to the roars (and photo flashes) of 78,000 ecstatic fans.

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Gisele Bündchen – click on this image to see a video of the moment.

Glory Restored: It was the marathon event at the 2004 Olympics, in the birthplace of the race, Greece. Brazilian, Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima, of Cruzeiro de Oeste, was leading the marathon race with 7 kilometers to go when a strangely dressed spectator burst onto the road and just as suddenly pushed de Lima off the course. As I have described in a previous post, de Lima looked disgusted as he made his way back onto the course and continue on with the race. At the end of the 42-kilometer footrace, de Lima finished in third. There were attempts to give him a gold medal, but it is likely that since de Lima was still in first with a decent lead, the IOC decided to keep the results as is.

No doubt, this incredibly quirky incident was hard to forget for Brazilians, and particularly de Lima, who could have been on the top step of the awards podium, with a gold medal around his neck, listening to his national anthem. Instead, he listened to the Italian anthem, consoled with a medal of bronze.

Fast forward to 2016. The most famous athlete in Brazil, the legendary Pelé is rumored to be too ill to participate in the opening ceremonies. Up steps de Lima, who took the sacred flame from Brazilian basketball star, Hortência de Fátima Marcari, and carefully climbed the 28 steps to the Olympic cauldron. He raised the flame high with two hands to immense cheers, turned to the cauldron and ignited it, and the hearts of 78,000 people in the Stadium.

As the cauldron climbed into the night, to become the centerpiece of an incredible metal sculpture that turned the sacred flame into a swirling solar spectacle, de Lima was probably feeling the pride and joy he could’ve, should’ve, would’ve felt, if not for that crazy man in Greece in 2004. As the fireworks exploded around and above Maracanã Stadium, de Lima’s heart, I’m sure, was full.

Vanderlei de Lima lighting the cauldron
Vanderlei Cordeiro de Lima lighting the Olympic cauldron.