Are you an Olympics opening ceremony person or a closing ceremony person?
The opening ceremony is full of pomp and bombast, overdone and overlong. The athletes marching into the stadium is a stirring sight, no question, and worth its weight in gold, silver and bronze, and the lighting of the Olympic flame is always boffo spectacle, too. But much of the rest of it is like all those awful Academy Awards production numbers we get every year, only at the the Olympics they're on steroids, a good example of bigger being a bad thing.
The opening ceremony makes some of us restless and — after we've derisively snorted at how much work and complex planning have gone into what amounts to be stridently vulgar and grossly simplistic — bored. We've waited four years for the darn games to start and that's what we want to finally see — the world's best athletes competing, the thrill of victory and agony of defeat (to coin a phrase) and enough already with ostentation and decadence that seem more related to ancient Rome than ancient Greece. While we endure the opening ceremonies, we're not entirely certain what we're about to see once the games begin: Who will triumph? Who will fail? Who will strut and who will cry and who will try to lose? And so we want to see it, the actual competition, pronto.
Now the closing ceremony, which arrives today, well, that's another event altogether, a flag of an alternative stripe, pomp of a different circumstance. We understand what we've seen for the past two weeks — we've been touched and outraged, we've gasped in awe and tsk-tsked in admonition, we've been momentarily lifted to a place that transcends medal counts, flag waving and repetitious national anthems ad nauseam. And we're sorry to see it all end.
Sure, the closing ceremony is also full of pomp and bombast, overdone and overlong, also with noisy and irrelevant show business-style production numbers, but with a big difference. Instead of restlessness and boredom, the closing ceremony gives us bittersweet nostalgia. It's not a big blowhard giving us an awkward thump on the back. It's comforting, like a hug from an infrequently seen favorite relative who is going away and isn't coming back for another four years.
The athletes aren't marching to an arrival, they're marching to a departure. And, as a Brit known as somewhat of a wordsmith once said, parting is such sweet sorrow. What a wonderful phrase: "sweet sorrow." The Olympic flame isn't being lit, it's being doused. We understand it's time to say goodbye, but we're a bit reluctant to do so, maybe more than a bit. We know the end, as with all things, is inevitable, but what's the rush? Let's squeeze out every last moment of good-vibe goodbye energy.
As today's closing ceremony arrives, we've come to know many of the athletes, at least we've come to know them better than we did two weeks ago. We understand, not merely on an intellectual level but on a visceral one, that we've been privileged to have glimpsed rare dedication and superior physical talent in the context of wondrous worldwide drama, warts and all (badminton, anyone?).
So, yeah, the views expressed here are from a sports fan who rolled his eyes during the opening ceremony but will likely dab at them during today's closing ceremony.
But before things get too emotional, perhaps now is the time to let loose with some final Olympics-related riffs and rants and alternative views:
Advice to the 2012 Summer Games' host nation: Drop the "Great" in Great Britain. It's quaint, it's conceited. It harkens back to the reign of Crazy George III, and he did get that memo from Thomas Jefferson in the colonies, didn't he?