>Olympics Fever

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I’m back! If you’ve been wondering where I’ve been, since I haven’t posted since last Friday, well, I’ve got Olympics Fever! And on top of that, my friend, Daphne, and her two younger kids, Simon and Ian, came over from Little Rock for the weekend… with their mini-bikes!

We tried them out at Williamson Park first, a few blocks from our house in midtown Memphis. Daphne is trying Simon’s, which can go up to 50 mph and runs on gasoline. I opted for Ian’s, which runs (much slower) on electricity… but plenty fast for me!

Later we tooks the boys and bikes down to Harbor Town where we could watch the sunset on the Mississippi. Beth went with us, and although the sunset was a bit muted by the clouds, the breeze, birds and boys on bikes made it a lovely end to a late summer day.

Of course I captured the moment on my watercolor journal before we headed back home for another marathon of Olympics viewing on TV.

And I couldn’t resist getting these USA bracelets for Beth, Daphne and me to wear during the Olympics…. (Beth’s is blue.)

We’re only 4 days into the 2008 Olympics and I’ve been glued to as many hours as possible so far… thanks to TIVO and coverage by several channels, that’s a lot of hours! Of course the opening ceremonies were amazing. I found myself alternately impressed with Chinese artistic and technological brilliance and appalled at the amount of money they spent on this one evening ($195 million) … at the expense of thousands of their people who were made homeless by the destruction of their ghetto dwellings to make way for the beautiful face the Chinese government would put on Beijing for all the world to see. It reminded me a bit of the scene in the movie “Anna and the King” when the King of Siam put on the party for visiting dignitaries to convince them that his country was civilized, against the backdrop of the savage beating of Tupkin, a slave who loves another slave, which wasn’t allowed in Siam.

I mentioned this to someone the other day and they said, “But the Olympics is about ideals, and a lot of good comes out of the messages presented in those opening ceremonies.” I get that, but it still creeps me out that a Communist nation is hosting this event which is supposed to represent good will among men. I can only hope that the expressions of peace shown by some of the athletes will spill over and affect those in power. Like the good will exhibited by the athletes from Russia and Georgia as they kissed on the medal podium yesterday.

And yes the 9-year-old boy who saved his classmates from the rubble following the earthquake is precious and I take nothing from his courageous acts. But when asked about what he did, he said, “I was the hall monitor. It was my job.” I’m sorry, but it still gave me the creeps to imagine these children being taught to act in such robotic fashion… like the 2008 drummers who put on the amazing drumming exhibit at the opening ceremonies, in militaristic fashion and with incredible precision. And the look inside the Chinese gymnastic training camps, where they take three-year-olds and bend their bodies in ridiculously unnatural positions to see which ones are pliable enough to keep and which ones are tossed away.

And the “pefect” little girl chosen to sing the solo? Turns out Yang Peiyi wasn’t perfect enough to be seen, so they chose a more beautiful girl, Lin Miaoke (right) for the face and had her lip sinc as Yang sang off stage, in order to present a prefect image. See a video about it here. So, in a country whose population is one fifth of the entire world, there could not be found one little girl “perfect” enough to do both? To be seen and heard? And what message does that send the children growing up in China about their worth as persons? Feel free to fire away at me with your comments here. I’m just in a reflective mode and keep seeing these paradoxes throughout the games.

But I’ve always been a huge fan of the Olympic Games… and when the games came to Atlanta in 1996, the excitement hit a lot closer to home for my family. Not only because my niece, Amy, (who is now married and the mother of a precious baby girl) danced in the opening ceremonies (she lives in Atlanta) … but because we had our own ceremonies back here in Tennessee.

We had just built a house in midtown Memphis, and our younger kids invited their friends over for an “Olympic Torch Party” on a hot day in July. You see, our house was on the route that the Olympic Torch would travel as it made its way across the country during the months leading up to its arrival at the stadium in Atlanta on July 14. We had a big party and set up tables on the sidewalk in front of our house where we ate hamburgers and hot dogs and welcomed the torch carrier as she made her way down our street, stopping in front of our house to pass the torch to the next runner, and then stop and visit with us. I’m sad and a bit embarrassed to say that I don’t remember her name… I’m sure she was a “community hero” or athlete of significance here in Memphis, and I’ve tried to find her name, so if anyone knows, please leave a comment!

And… down in my home town of Jackson, Mississippi, the torch was being carried by my father, Bill Johnson! (Again, there are photos… but I can’t find them today.) Dad was a marathon runner (finished New York and Boston several times) and owner of Bill Johnson’s Phidippides Sports from 1982-1997. There’s even a monument in his honor at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame . Anyway, he carried the torch just a few months before being diagnosed with lung cancer, and just two years before his death at age 68, ten years ago last month. So I always think about him when the Olypmics comes around…. And about the Watermelon 5K Classic race that he started and continues to this day. I ran it twenty-five years ago, in 1983, with our son, Jonathan, who was only 6 years old. It was my one and only road race, on the 4th of July in Jackson, Mississippi, and I was just thrilled to get to the end and get some ice cold watermelon!

As I make this post, Melissa Lawson, our favorite who won Nashville Star last week, is singing her new hit single, “What If It All Goes Right?” in Beijing! She sung on the Great Wall yesterday. Way to go, Melissa! So, I can’t wait for the track and field events to get started, but until then, I’m happy watching the swimming and gymnastics. Go, USA!

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