You had to be there, right? I know it will not have impressed everyone and, guess what, there were some logistical problems. The media who will have been hunting for the bad rather than the good, will have found plenty of glitches; the handful of protestors will have found loopholes even if they were never seen. It was horribly hot - and I thought it might be better to watch it on television. But I was wrong. Courtesy of some wonderful people who invited me to join them I was there, and I was in awe.
The opening ceremony of the the XXIXth Olympiad in Beijing was everything this observer could have imagined - and plenty of things that could not have been imagined. Whether or not Steven Spielberg was ever going to provide some technical assistance, I am glad he didn't. They managed just fine without him. And whoever must have been watching from the London Olympic Committee should have been chewing their nails by the end, wondering how they were going to top that - and they haven't seen the closing yet!
From the opening drum beats to the final lighting of the flame, this was a triumphant procession of China's contributions to the world over a 5,000 year time span - done subtly and spectacularly in an entrancing programme. The entrance of the athletes from the huge continents to representatives from the tiniest of nations, all putting sport where it belongs on this occasion, above the politics that seem to have been never far from the surface with these particular games. Athletes with smiles as wide as the stadium, happy to be there and part of an event that for many will be their chance of a lifetime, their dream. The cheers that erupted from the whole stadium to welcome the arrival of the team from Chinese Taipei must have warmed the hearts of those who seek closer cooperation between the two places, as much as the cheers for the Iraq team must have made President Bush wonder if his hearing was properly attuned - but these were cheers, I think, for the fact that through tragedy and adversity the Iraqis had managed to send a team at all - nothing more sinister than that. And for China of course, and rightly, the loudest cheers as they were led around the stadium by Yao Ming accompanied by a nine year old boy from Sichuan who had helped rescue some of his classmates when the earthquake struck last May. A poignant and appropriate tribute representing many heroes of that disaster, recognised and unrecognised.
This was a night when animosity and politics should have been forgotten. A night which belonged to the organisers of what some might claim was a contender for the title of the greatest show on earth. A night which belonged to the volunteers and participants whose years of dedication to the spectacle will be a long memory for them, but a night that above all celebrated the global village of athleticism where to even take part, will be a tribute to the determination and dedication of many.
And yes, if you were able to, you had to be there!