China’s Games live up to hype

China’s Olympics have been China’s Olympics. We knew the Chinese were coming, but we weren’t expecting them from every direction: weightlifting, shooting, wrestling, gymnastics, diving, even swimming.

If an opening ceremonies that included everything but live, fire-breathing dragons didn’t tell us that the Chinese were serious about this whole Olympic thing, the first week of competition certainly has.

As of Thursday, the gymnastics and diving venues could have simply left the Chinese flag in the gold-medal position. In seven events, there have been no other winners. At the weightlifting gym and indoor shooting range, the Chinese flag has been raised the highest in 10 of 16 events.

All that stands between China and Olympic domination, it seems, is Michael Phelps and every flexed muscle in his body, an American Great Wall. Perhaps he can solve the mortgage crisis and the weak dollar, too.

President Bush saw him set one of his world records. Don’t ask which one, though; we’ve lost track. His father saw three women win America’s first medals – all in one event, fencing.

There was rain. There was also smog, or haze, or some version of atmospheric opaqueness for which the International Olympic Committee has yet to invent a word. But it didn’t really seem to bother anyone but NBC, which has hardly taken its panoramic camera out of the box. Let’s just say that while the venues looked spectacular, the sky looked yucky.

Kobe Bryant has made his appearance, as have tennis star Rafael Nadal and soccer superstar Lionel Messi.

The sun, however, is still in hiding. Otherwise, we have seen how the Olympics can be transformed by a nation that embraces them.

There is no doubt that China – and the Chinese – desperately wanted these Games. And for every rafter-rattling call of “CHI-NA! CHI-NA!” there are a hundred grinning volunteers, an image of a China far more humane and hospitable than it often gets credit for.

At the end of the first week of competition Sunday, we say goodbye to swimming, to rowing, and to the drama of team gymnastics. Week 1 has been Olympic in every sense of the term, and all evidence suggests that the next leg will not disappoint.

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