Friday, August 21
The Event: Men’s 10 Meter Platform Diving (Qualifying Round)
The Competitors: Thirty divers from about 20 countries.
The Venue: The Water Cube! The Water Cube and the Bird’s Nest were the two venues we’d heard the most about in the leadup to the Olympics. But while the exterior and interior of the Bird’s Nest are almost equally fascinating, the inside of the Water Cube is seriously overshadowed by what’s going on outside. When events end, the Water Cube puts on a show that seems to have a mind of its own, colors shifting and pulsing across its giant bubbled surface in gentle but unpredictable waves (although there is a definite preference for blues and violets, which provide a nice contrast to the reds and yellows of the Bird’s Nest just across the way). All this is not to say that the inside of the Water Cube isn’t nice, but in many ways it just felt like a giant pool with a lot of seats around it (which it is). Still, seeing the breathtaking height of the 10 meter diving platform at one end of the pool — 10 meters is well over 30 feet — and being in Michael Phelps’ eight-medal stomping ground were thrills in their own right.
What we knew: We knew that Chinese divers had already taken the gold medal in every other diving event, and that they were probably favored to win this final one, too, although there was one German challenger thought to be dangerous. But we also knew that we were only watching the first, qualifying round of the three-part event. So our own final Olympic event was to be more of a laid-back epilogue than a grand climax.
How we prepared: This being our last event, I continued the theme of making some kind of fashion statement, however random, by wearing my red, white and blue Phillies cap with a Chinese flag and an Olympic flag crossed and stuck into the band at the back, plus the (by now routine) American flag draped around my shoulders. Lacey’s been going the other direction fashion-wise, so she just sported a blue patterned dress (and the flag around her shoulders when she got cold). The best thing about my own getup was the laughs I got far from the Olympic Green, getting take out dinner in a distant restaurant and walking to the neighborhood subway with double takes the whole way.
Also worth mentioning here is our “Jia you” technique, which by this time we had perfected (although we didn’t use it as much here as at the other events). Apparently, Chinese sports fans can sometimes get nasty, so before the Olympics the government “suggested” that the official chant for the Olympics would be “Jia you,” which literally means “add oil,” but which translates more like “Come on!” or “Let’s go!” “You” here is pronounced like “yo.” Sure enough, just as the government suggested, at any event that the Chinese feel passionate about, every minute or two some guy will start yelling “Zhong guo!” (China!) and someone else will immediately pick up the cue and yell “Jia you!” Soon everyone is chanting back and forth. In a giant stadium it sounds really awesome. So anyway, our technique was simple: when the Americans were up, I just yelled “Mei guo!” (USA!) and then added my own “Jia you!” a moment later. At every event this automatically resulted in the turning of dozens, if not hundreds, of Chinese heads, all flashing huge grins when they saw the Meiguoren (American) who was doing the chant for his own country. At our women’s volleyball event (when I had the Chinese and American flags on each cheek), I even got some neighbors offering to pick up the “Jia you” for me, and we got a decent “Mei guo . . . jia you” chant going with neighboring sections chiming in. In the end I think this is more or less what the Olympics are supposed to be all about — breaking down cultural barriers and not getting too crazy with the nationalism — so it was a highly satisfying to connect with people and root for our teams at the same time.
What happened: This is about diving, after all, and there was a lot of it. Really a lot. I guess 6 rounds with 30 divers makes 180 dives in all. So there were countless, breathless pre-dive moments on the platform when no one in the entire place spoke, slow careful headstands 10 meters above the water, dizzying flips and spins, some little splashes, a lot of medium splashes, and a few really big splashes, expressions of stony disappointment or subdued triumph by the divers climbing out of the pool, showers inexplicably broadcast on the big screen, and long stares at the scoreboard while the next diver was already readying himself at the end of the platform. There was one score of ninety-nine for the top Chinese diver; the two Americans qualified by finishing in sixth and seventh place (the top eighteen divers qualified). The famous German diver seemed to have underachieved a little, but maybe he was just getting warmed up for the semifinals and finals. In general, the whole night had a strange lack of rhythm, with one diver after the other spinning off the platform and into the water and not much else, other than the constantly changing scores, to mark the time. That’s not to say it wasn’t amazing to see what these guys were doing – it was, and I think diving is one of the coolest sports in the Olympics – but taken strictly as an event, it was more like a relaxing two and a half hours of watching waves on the beach than getting all caught up in an actual sporting competition.
Also of note: One of the British divers (who happened to qualify) looked like he was about 14 years old, and we found out later that he was, actually, 14 years old. Apparently, diving has different minimum age requirements than, say, gymnastics, where the Chinese are currently being (re-)investigated for entering female gymnasts allegedly below the minimum age of 16.
On a different note, if you could say I grew up in any particular generation where diving is concerned, it would have to be the Greg Louganis generation. This has as much to do with his famous attempt to break the platform with his head as his diving, although from what I remember he was really good at that, too. Anyway, at our diving event I could feel the master’s legacy haunting me for most of the night. Using our binoculars and the giant replay screens, I determined that several divers actually grazed the platform with their hair on the way down. Have we not learned anything from Greg? Does no one remember the horrified gasps, the blood in the pool, the hair matted across the wet, dripping gash? Seriously, I think diving is awesome, but if you ask me these guys need to push a little further away from the platform.