The Shanghai Special Olympics concluded yesterday. Over the past two weeks, 7,500 athletes, 40,000 volunteers, and 3,500 event officials descended on the city to stage events for 25 sports. Highlights here.
At the closing ceremony at Jiangwan Stadium last night, Kenny G played a rendition of “Butterfly Lovers” (梁祝) as women in butterfly costumes descended from cables strung to the stadium lights. When they reached the stage, they claimed a Special Olympian and escorted her back to the lights as the announcer declared in a monotone voice, “Now she has made it.” And that was just the beginning.
Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher, Paula Abdul, and Idaho governor C. L. “Butch” Otter made video appearances (that last cameo was followed inexplicably, by a segment promoting tourism in Idaho). There was also a host of Chinese talent, much of it more current. Bouffanted Xinjiang child star Arafa performed (we swear he grabbed his crotch), along with Jia You! Hao Nan Er (加油！ 好男儿) stud Pu Bajia (蒲巴甲) and Hao Nan Er hosts Cao Kefan (曹可凡) and Chen Chen (陈辰) themselves. There was the requisite Monkey King reenactment, there was a feel-good number performed by singers from five continents, there were synchronized fountains and ribbon dancers and dry ice. And of course there were fireworks.
For China, the Special Olympics was more than a way to overhaul its image with regard to treatment of people with disabilities , or even an excuse to bring Kenny G yet again . It was also an opportunity to try out logistical schemes planned for the Beijing Olympics. From what we could tell, they worked. Our observations:
- The taxi driver who took us to Jiangwan was wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with 《你行，我也行》 (translated into English as the more individualistic “I Know I Can”). He smiled.
- Yangpu district has never looked this hot. The streets surrounding Jiangwan Stadium have gotten a complete makeover since we last visited a year and a half ago.
- The traffic cops lining the streets outside the stadium were helpful and smartly dressed. It is unclear whether they are the same people who yell at us for hovering near the curb on Nanjing Xi Lu (南京西路).
- Top meteorological officials were on hand to oversee cloud-seeding and other weather modification efforts. Typhoon Krosa was apparently beyond their control. Aside from that, however, Shanghai saw two weeks of clear skies.
Security was spotty. Screening at the roller skating qualifiers was “like Fort Knox,” as one friend put it, while at gymnastics it was nonexistent. Overall, though, the Games was a success. The proud father from Minnesota sitting behind us — his daughter won two silver medals in bowling — started attending Special Olympics, which is held every two years, in 1987. It’s possible he was just being polite (Minnesotans tend to do that), but he told us that this was the best Games he had ever seen.
Whether that translates into a smooth Beijing Olympics remains to be seen. Next year, China will have to handle thousands more people, in addition to stickier issues like protests and an onslaught of missionaries. Then of course there is the Beijing air. But at the very least, the past two weeks showed that China ain’t messing around.
Photo from the official website of the 2007 Special Olympics