German Olympics

Both cities I visited in Germany had the privilege of hosting the Olympic games, Berlin in 1936 and Munich in 1972, and both occasions are remembered for their dramatic events and circumstances. The Hitler Games in 1936 were particularly controversial as only members of the Aryan race were permitted to compete for Germany. However, despite this glaring indication that Nazi Germany was heading down a dangerous path, other countries looked the other way, a feat made easier because the Nazi party removed their slanderous signs including those stating “Jews not wanted.” The Olympic Stadium itself contained Roman elements as Hitler aspired to lead a nation similar to that of Ancient Rome; however, most decorative aspects prevalent in Roman architecture were removed leaving behind square columns and clean, flat surfaces. With the rest of the world in Germany in 1936, there was an opportunity for anyone to recognize the signs of what was to come. There was the “cleaning up” of the gypsies as they were sent to camps. There was the no-Aryan rule. There were remnants of the discriminatory practice against the Jews. In an event meant to symbolize nations coming together to compete on the highest and fairest of stages, the German activities of the times did not embody those sentiments.

Berlin Olympic Stadium
The Berlin Olympic Stadium

As seen inside the Berlin Olympic Stadium

The Munich games 36 years later also had their share of turmoil. Known as the Munich Massacre, a tragic event involving the taking hostage and murder of 11 Israeli athletes by Palestinian gunmen overshadowed the games. During an Olympics designed to move forward from what had transpired during the Hitler games, this event achieved much of the opposite effect and continued to tarnish the German Olympic-hosting legacy.

Outside the Munich Olympic Stadium
Outside the Munich Olympic Stadium

1912 Olympic Games

Almost a century ago, the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm came and went without too much to note other than the USA walked away with most medals, it was the first time that the decathlon was featured, and it was the last to issue solid gold medals. (Thank you wikipedia.) Although it may not have been an Olympics with many defining features, I figured it still warranted the short subway ride to go see the stadium. While visiting, they were preparing the stadium for some event. This meant that some of the gates were left open, and I pretended I belonged there (with my camera and map) and explored.

Stockholm Olympic Stadium

Bracketing Olympic Tradition

Not long ago, I walked through the stadium of the most recent summer Olympics from 2008 in Beijing. Today, I walk through the stadium of the ancient Greek Olympic games. The place where the very notion of the Olympics was born. The track was a little smaller and the stadium held less people than in Beijing; however, without this stadium and this tradition, none of the other Olympic games may have occurred.

As I walk through the stadium, I imagine the athletes that would have competed here centuries ago. My sister introduced to me the idea of the “Normal Guy” when we were watching the games together. The Normal Guy Theory states that the athletes now are so accomplished at their individual sports that even the slowest Olympic runner, the shortest Olympic jumper, or the weakest Olympic weight lifter are so many standard deviations above the mean in their area of expertise that when paired with an average individual or even an individual who would be considered a superior athlete at the high school or collegiate level, the Olympian would be far and away the better. I bring this up now because possibly, many centuries ago, those competing in this stadium were fewer deviations away from average and did not spend the last four years focusing on one specific skill, but instead, were simply talented and athletic individuals who have chosen to compete.

I line up at the starting line and imagine the crowd roaring while waiting anxiously. I sit in the stands in both the standard and the honored seats and pretend a discuss or hurdling event is about to begin. As I walk out of the stadium humming to myself John Williams’ Olympic Fanfare, I smile knowing that the next games are about a year away in London 2012.

Get ready

Get set


An I-remember-where-I-was-when Moment

Every generation has their I-remember-where-I-was-when moments such as when JFK was assassinated or when the Twin Towers collapsed. One of mine, whether dignified or not, is the Opening Ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. I had gone over to my sister Julie’s and her then fiancée (now husband) George’s apartment in Noe Valley of San Francisco, George prepared delicious Chicken Abobo or Adobo or something that sounds similar to that for which I remember going back for thirds, and we started watching the Opening Ceremony on their new big screen TV using DVR until we caught up to the live–although technically delayed–broadcast. I had ventured there on the BART after work at my summer internship in Soma and was prepared for something spectacular.

olympic stadium statue

The ceremony lived up to expectation. I still recall there being 2008 of everything, whether it was lights, drums, dancers, etc. I remember the giant screen that they unrolled. I remember the dancer who had ink on his hands and feet and painted as he moved across a blank canvas. I remember people coming from the ceiling. I remember drummers playing so synchronously that I feared for those who failed to do so in training. I remember the little girl singer who had to lip-sync the words because the true singer wasn’t cute enough to perform. In others words, the event was more than memorable.

stadium up close

Therefore, although the Beijing Olympic Stadium might seem like a lifeless structure post-Olympics, it was high on my list to visit. In true tourist fashion with my map in one hand and my camera in the other, I worked my way to the Olympic Stadium via subway and foot. The openness of the surrounding areas near the Olympic Aquatic Center and of the Olympic Stadium made the occasion difficult to capture on film, or on memory card as the case may be, but this did not prevent me from tying. Also, on the off chance that I could get inside, I approached the stadium and found an open gate. After starting to walk through, I got pointed around the stadium because pointing was our only common language. For a small fee, I was able to enter.

olympic stadium chair

First thing I did was walk inside and find a seat. My mind started thinking about those Opening Ceremonies and all the other Olympic moments that took place within this building. The hair on the back of my neck stood up higher inside the Olympic Stadium than it had inside the Forbidden City. I thought about the athletes whose dreams came true after spending a lifetime of training and discipline. And I thought about that Chicken Adobo (or whatever it was), and how George had remade the dish the next night because he wasn’t satisfied how the sauce came out the first night, when I had gone back for thirds. I thought about how the 2008 Beijing Olympics was China’s way of proving its dominance to the world, and how similarly to the Forbidden City and all the great palaces around Beijing, these Olympics celebrated China and demonstrated its power.

olympic stadium stairs

Designed like a bird’s nest, the Stadium’s architectural details did not come through on TV as they did in person. From the staircases to the support beams, its free-body diagram seems like a nightmare to calculate. Making certain that all the forces add up to zero and that no member is under too much stress or strain is an art in itself when looking at a structure like this. Finally, the colors complimented the architecture so perfectly that it looked as though every perspective and every lighting combination was considered. Although sometimes very simply used, the color provided life to this otherwise empty building.

The 2008 Beijing Olympic Stadium left a strong impression.

Olympic Stadium and me