Actually, it was Friday night, not today, and it happened in, of all places, Vancouver. Every time they come around, I watch the Olympics’ opening ceremonies, which are very possibly the strangest entertainment event in the world. They fail to move me, unless by “move” you mean “cause me to wonder aloud what on earth I’m looking at.” This time was no different: The big First Nations dance sequence was a charming idea and was probably a blast if you were there, though it looked pretty loosely choreographed and thus played poorly on television (a giant aboriginal rave, my friend Janet called it).
But the parade of nations gets me choked up, every damn time. It’s mostly seeing thousands of athletes — so young! — who have been driving themselves to exhaustion for, literally, most of their nascent lives. All the ugliness — the will and aggression behind the scenes, the screaming fights with coaches and parents, the fishing for corporate dollars to get them there, the weird mascots, the general sense that floods of that cash have corrupted the Olympic movement — falls away. The athletes from the first-world nations look impossibly bright-eyed, knowing that this is their moment to be the best on the planet at something. And the ones from the unlikely-to-win countries — that one cross-country skier from Algeria, for example — get a moment on a level playing field, bearing their flags, incredibly thrilled to have a shot. You know that, even if they come in last, they will be listed in the record books for the rest of time, and they will, when they go home, hang framed certificates from the IOC on the wall. It’s beautiful.
Also, I can’t help feeling a little happy when the nation at the head of the parade enters the stadium. We Greeks no longer run much of anything, but we have our pride, and a few very good ideas. And the flame, hand-carried, carefully tended, all the way from Athens! Oh, I’m getting teary all over again.