As I’ve watched the Sochi Games on television for the past two weeks, many of the highlights reminded me of similar scenes I witnessed in person while covering several Olympic Games for VOA. Perhaps the most poignant moments for me came from the two I covered in Asia, the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics and the 2008 Beijing Summer Games.
Like the intricate folds of origami, the Nagano Games were an intricately entwined mix of culture, appreciation for the incredible athletic talent on display, and a camaraderie of media colleagues I cherish to this day. The fireworks during the closing ceremony were amazingly brilliant and intricate in their patterns against the cold black winter sky. Coming face to face with the famed snow monkeys near the men’s snowboarding venue was a rare treat.
A decade later in Beijing, the experience was very different. The Chinese pulled out all the stops, beginning with undoubtedly the gold medal standard for opening ceremonies, a world record if you will that will likely never be topped. Everything about the games seemed massive. I was poolside for every gold medal American Michael Phelps hauled in. His record eight victories at a single Olympics were a special part of his 22 overall medals, making him the most decorated Olympic athlete ever. After each event, I’d be standing with Phelps, his short hair still wet, during the first meeting with reporters under the stands before his formal press conferences later.
President George W. Bush was there, and because the security was set up as a zone, I could literally touch his limousine parked outside as I passed by, something I’d never be able to do anywhere else in the world! And contrary to the time since the Olympics, the sky was crystal blue in Beijing for almost an entire week. I could actually see the location of the Great Wall from Olympic Park. It was a rare moment for China, one I was glad to be a part of.