Wash. U. goes to Beijing

| Sports Editor

While scores of Washington University students watched the Beijing Olympics on television, a few got to be there this summer.

Behind the lights, cameras and exciting displays of athletic accomplishment are a host of different stories that have not been covered by the mainstream media.

“This is certainly more than just a sporting event for the Chinese,” senior Sarah Starr, who interned for NBC in Beijing, said.

Senior Tyler Nading and junior Cameron Smith were part of a small group of Wash. U. students who went to Beijing for some classes. Both Nading and Smith blogged about their experiences for the Athletic Department.

“We went to Bejing to study environmental and energy issues at two of the top universities in China—Tsinghua and Peking,” Smith said.

According to Nading, the Chinese government increased emissions standards, halted construction, shut down factories and allowed cars into the city based on their license plates. New buildings and highways were constructed all over Beijing with a special lane for accredited Olympic vehicles that were allowed to go a minimum of 56 miles per hour. Sparkling new cabs and buses filled the streets while Olympic tickets functioned as subway passes.

“Everywhere you go, there are people wearing Olympic shirts, watching Olympic events on public televisions, and everyone here avidly follows every event,” freshman Luke Ding said in an e-mail from Beijing. “Almost everywhere you go, people are talking of how many medals China has won.”

“No matter what turns the air pollution or political issues take, the Chinese people will make these games memorable,” Smith said. The surge of patriotic fervor caused thousands of Chinese citizens to volunteer at various venues. The blue-shirted volunteers helped tourists with directions, checked bags at security, took tickets and posed for souvenir photos.

Students noted that security had been incredibly tight at all the venues with active military sites nearby. Bags were x-rayed in the subway system and at all the venues. Fans were not allowed to bring in drinks or food to the Olympic Games and had to pass through a metal detector.

The security did not deter the Chinese from cheering on their nation. Televisions all over Beijing were tuned to Olympic events, especially when Chinese athletes were competing.

According to the Associated Press, more than one billion people watched the men’s basketball game against China, which the U.S. won by 31 points. Though tickets to all events had been sold out, Wash. U. students remarked that there were many empty seats, especially for the less popular sports.

Other stories weren’t broadcast in China.

“You hear only of good news, like a European praising the Chinese food and great culture,” freshman Anne Cheng, who saw judo and a practice of the opening ceremony, said. “You don’t hear of the crazy guy who passed security at Gu Lou and stabbed two Americans to death with a knife, or the bus that got bombed.”

“Some people welcome the Olympics wholeheartedly, and their passion is very contagious,” Cheng said. “Other people can be indifferent, or even annoyed toward the Olympics because it is changing their lifestyle drastically.”

Other stories didn’t get media exposure overseas.

“People in the U.S. should know that there is a lot to the Olympics besides Michael Phelps,” Starr said in an e-mail. “I watched a doubles ping pong match in which one of the players had only one arm.”

A large variety of Olympic souvenirs were also available, from T-shirts to replica models of the Olympic torch. “People may not be aware of the fervor surrounding pin trading,” Starr said. “I don’t know what their actual value is, but having a good collection of pins is a big deal.”

Wash. U. alum Liz Campbell (’08) probably had one of the best souvenirs from Beijing.

Campbell was seated in the centerfield bleachers, talking with her friends about catching a home run ball. Natasha Watley of Team USA stepped to the plate at the top of the second inning and blasted a homer in the softball opener between the U.S. and Venezuela.

“The only thing I was thinking as the ball came toward me was to catch it,” Campbell said.

Campbell didn’t catch the ball.

“For a split second, I was devastated until I looked up into my friend’s hands,” Campbell said. “The three of us immediately broke into a roaring U-S-A chant.”

Campbell’s friend gave her the ball.

The cameras followed the ball all the way to Campbell and her friends. Her father, who was halfway around the world, recorded the game on the DVR. “We played it over and over to relive the moment,” Campbell said.

Campbell also shared how a runner had been running his last lap alone in the 5,000-meter track event. “However, you wouldn’t be able to tell he was last from the amount of applause he received as he crossed the finish line,” Campbell said.

Those students who were in Beijing this summer created amazing memories of the people and their experiences.

“My most vivid memory that I will bring back is that of Cameron trying on a women’s silk robe that he was very, very close to purchasing despite my warnings,” Nading said. “Oh, I wish he had.”