The Olympic flame has been extinguished, marking the end of the XXIX Summer Olympic Games. For me, the glow of the flame will not soon fade.
I just returned home from Beijing with my heart full of admiration, pride, and a little sadness. I admire the marvel and the extraordinary efforts of millions who contributed to the production and success of the Games. I am proud of the accomplishments of the athletes, especially those from the country of my birth, Jamaica. And, I am a little sad for the millions of people who were not as fortunate as I to attend this awesome spectacle in person.
When I landed at the new terminal at the Beijing airport, it was immediately obvious that there had been a transformation in the city’s appearance since my previous visit. Smiling volunteers (a few of the one million reported in the media) welcomed me, only too willing to provide information; the subway platform at the airport was as shiny as a new penny; and the ever-present smog was lighter.
The buildings constructed especially for the Games were an architectural wonder, many of them draped in banners showing famous Chinese athletes. Throughout the city, in the downtown areas and in the neighborhoods, hung banners and flags heralding the Games.
Traffic flowed smoothly along sparkly clean highways passing buildings made brighter with a fresh coat of paint. Residents bursting with pride chanted, “Welcome to Beijing.”
During the day of the opening ceremony, I meandered around Wang Fujing, a popular shopping and dining area, and Tiananmen Square, where thousands of people gathered. The mood was festive — foreigners and Beijingers made merry until the crowds were dispersed by security, whose numbers were as great as the revelers.
As the hour of the opening drew near and the lucky ones went to the Bird’s Nest Beijing National Stadium, the rest of the city quietly sat in front of televisions. Some restaurants even closed so their staff could watch the ceremony.
One of the volunteers said to me the following day, “As a Chinese, I really got very excited last night. It was beyond my imagination. From the very beginning, I could tell it’s about China, not propaganda. We [he and friends who watched the ceremony together] cheered from the deepest part of our hearts.”
Security on the streets, subway stations, and at the entrances of venues was only a slight nuisance given the feeling of safety I enjoyed while walking around the large venues. During the first week of the Games, when I was at the Olympic Green, the crowds were far more extensive outside the venue than inside.
I only ran into a handful of other Blacks — from the U.S., England and the Caribbean — and we were most gleeful to meet each other. However, the feeling of camaraderie between all people regardless of ethnicity was powerful.
Just as I was beginning to think that the incredible infrastructure could not be surpassed by the sporting events, the athletes burst on the scene and shattered world records. Usain Bolt, my countryman, in lightening speed made his mark on the world stage by winning the 100m and the 200m and leading the 4x100m relay team to victory.
Not to be outdone, the Jamaican women won gold and silver in the 100m. Bolt also showed his humanitarian side by making a donation to the Sichuan earthquake fund for survivors of the May 2008 earthquake.
As I spoke to people who in some way participated in the Olympics, it struck me that each one went above and beyond to make this event a success. Athletes devoted countless hours in preparation for the Games; professionals in other areas, such as artists, business people and others, pushed themselves to do their finest work; volunteers trained for over a year to handle their responsibilities; and many faceless ordinary citizens made enormous sacrifices for their country.
Of course, there were a few things that one could complain about. But in the end, I smiled respectfully as my Chinese friend said, “It’s more than a sporting event. It’s a party for the world and China is the host, and we want people around the world to see what China is like now.”
Jennifer Holder welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.