That is all.
Thursday was wrestling day for us. Unfortunately, freestyle wrestling (the traditional US style) takes place next week, so we saw the Greco-Roman competition. We had tickets for the heats up to the semi-finals in the morning, and then the medal rounds in the evening.
It was surprisingly interesting. At first it was a bit difficult to work out the rules and scoring, particularly when neither of the wrestlers could flip each other. We managed to get a little brochure from the info booth that did a decent job explaining it, though. (I’d summarize it here, but doubt anyone is that interested.)
Future Olympics spectators take note: ALWAYS stop by the information booth before the competition! That’s the place where you can get brackets, race times, and brochures to explain the sports. Highly recommended!
The medal rounds were our first of the Olympics and were quite emotional. The ceremonies were immediately after the matches, and well done. Wrestling is a bit odd in that there are two bronze medallists. In the 84kg category ceremony, one of the bronze medallists (from Sweden) took off his medal and threw it to the mat just after he received it. Pretty poor form if you ask me, even for the most hyper-competitive of people. All of the rest went off without a hitch.
We saw the rounds and medal ceremonies for three weight classes: 84, 96, and 120kg. It was fascinating to see the differences in how each wrestled. The 84kg guys were really nimble, and there was a lot of action on the mat. The 120kg guys didn’t move nearly as quickly but were incredibly powerful. It was great to learn to appreciate a new sport.
As I write this, we’re on the train to the city to see gymnastics and beach volleyball. Gymnastics is supposed to be the women’s all-around final with an American girl as the favorite. Needless to say, we’re really excited! (And the rain yesterday cleared the skies… We can see blue sky today!)
Today was the fifth day of Olympic competitions. We spent the morning doing our tourist stuff and the afternoon watching some great rowing.
Tourists on the Prowl
Today we met up with a couple friends from Thames Rowing Club and their friends to tour the Forbidden City, eight of us in total. While it was a bit unwieldy to see the sights with that many people, we managed to work it all out.
The Forbidden City is really impressive. It’s a mammoth complex, and has a really rich and interesting history. I enjoyed just walking around the huge structures and plazas, imagining how life must have been five hundred years ago during the emperors’ time. The architecture is interesting, and the buildings are richly decorated.
We went through a few different exhibits that were recommended by the guidebook. While they were kind of interesting (museum-style presentation of old clocks, jewelry, artifacts and the like), I felt like they just filled the time and space. My favourite mental pictures are of the little courtyards and trees and buildings scattered away from the main buildings, but how they integrated into the city as a whole. While the gates, entrances, and plazas were certainly on a massive scale to impress, there was also a very human and day-to-day dimension, as well.
After our visit we caught a cab to one of the main shopping areas to walk around and grab lunch. We tried a duck restaurant which told us they had a table for us (we thought). But after going to the floor they specified, we realised that they didn’t, and in fact there was a massive queue on each floor for lunch. We went across the street to a different restaurant, which seemed a little dodgy at first but turned out okay.
At the Races
Lunch and finding a taxi afterword took a while, so we missed the first bit of racing. Luckily we just missed the C/D semifinals for the men and women’s singles, but made it just in time for the A/B semifinals. Michelle Guerette of the USA did really well in her single, and there were some surprises on the men’s side. Most of the usual suspects made it through to the A final, except Marcel Hacker. We heard later that his father passed away last week, and the funeral was literally the day before the first heats. That must have been a terrible thing to deal with on top of the Olympics stresses, so it was admirable that he made it as far as he did, considering. It looks like it should be an exciting final.
The GB men’s four was really great today. While they weren’t miles ahead at the finish, they just kept right on paddling back to the warm-down lanes while all of the other crews looked like they were dead. They’re clearly a fast boat, though they’ll have to prove that on Saturday in the final.
Perhaps the oddest final today was the C final of the Men’s Double Sculls. It featured two competitors: Iraq and the United States. The United States took it with a good margin, but the Iraqi crew clearly rowed their hearts out and got a lot of hearty cheers from the crowd. After crossing their line and getting their breath back, they raised their arms in triumph and it was clear that even though they were 14th out of 14 double sculls, they had achieved their dreams.
The scariest race today was the women’s eight. Five boats raced, and four of them went on to the A final. Essentially: don’t come last. The GB eight, which has two Thames Rowing Club members (Ali Knowles and Beth Rodford) was last at the first 500 mark. I’ve heard they don’t have the most consistent start, and it didn’t seem to go well for them today. But they dug deep and made up for lost ground. By the end it was still quite tight, but they crossed the line in third place and will be in the A final on Sunday. Both the German men’s eight and the German women’s eight lost their repercharge races, which has got to be a bit of a shock to their national rowing team.
Finally, our flatmate for the week arrived today, and that’s going well. We had dinner at a local restaurant and enjoyed chatting to someone who knows a lot about British rowing. Starting tomorrow we’ve got a bunch more events scheduled (wrestling, gymnastics, weightlifting, athletics and triathlon) so I have a feeling this week is going to fly by.
Today we skipped our rowing events to instead head out to the Great Wall of China. We originally planned on doing this with a friend that we ran into yesterday, but she overslept and missed it. Doh!
But first… Groundhog Day. I’m not sure if it has been totally clear from my previous posts, but you don’t see the sun in Beijing. I’ve talked to people that have been in Beijing for weeks and haven’t seen the sun through the haze. But today was Groundhog Day and we saw the sun! It was a really bright and clear day, and perfect for our trip along the wall.
(That’s not to say that today was great visibility, since there’s still quite a bit of haze. But instead of seeing soup a kilometer away, it was several kilometers away, and the sun broke through.)
The Great Wall
All I have to say is WOW! I’m so glad that we went, and it was incredible. There are several sections of the Great Wall near Beijing, and we went to Simatai. It’s certainly further away and harder to get to than other sections, but much more scenic and less “touristy.”
The Simatai Great Wall has two sections of wall. One runs off to the west, and eventually connects to another section of wall. (You can hike from one to the other if you’re ambitious). It’s beautiful, with sloping arcs of wall across the top of a mountain ridge. The other section of wall runs off to the east, and is absolutely incredible. It’s incredibly steep, and has watchtowers seemingly perched on nothing at all. In fact, after a certain point you aren’t allowed any further because of the poor condition of the path and the impossibly narrow wall. At one point it supposedly narrows to about a foot wide for over a hundred meters, with serious drops to either side.
We walked the entire eastern section until the sign and guard prevented us from going any further, and went as far west as we could until it was time to head back. The wall actually stops as it is on either side of a river, though there’s a bridge (used to be rope, now suspension) that you can use to get across.
Unfortunately my proper digital camera ran out of batteries before I finished importing the photos, but here are a couple that I managed to grab with my phone. They’re fairly poor, but start to give a sense of the size and incredible scale of construction. (All of the really cool photos are on my camera, and I will post them later.)
Getting out to Simatai was interesting. We had to go into central Beijing, get an express bus (980) out to one of the suburbs, and then catch a minicab/minibus out to Simatai. There were a few other Americans going the same way and we shared a rather death-defying 45-minute minibus ride out and back. Though we split up to tour the wall in different directions, it was nice to meet a few new people.
To make sure we weren’t exhausted by the time we got to the wall, we took a cable car ride up the mountain, and then a funicular even further. Even after all that it was a bit of a tough climb to get up! It would be a hell of a training session for a rowing/running/cycling team!
One of the best parts of Simatai was the incredible variation. In some places it’s just a walkway on top of the wall, in other places there is a high defensive wall to one side. Some places are fairly flat and nice, others are so steep that each step was nearly as high as my knee. Some steps were very deep, and others were so shallow we had to walk up and down sideways in order to fit our feet on the steps. Parts of the trail we were actually bouldering to get around.
All in all a fantastic day out. I really want to finish uploading my other photos soon.
More from our neighborhood — the Airport Dormitories
We got a tour through our local neighborhood this evening with our hosts that own the flat we’ve been staying in. This neighborhood really does come alive at night. It reminds me somewhat of neighborhoods that I’ve been around in Italy. At night the whole city comes out to the parks and common areas to socialize. Tonight we saw organised dancing (Chinese line dancing and ballroom-type dancing), people out for walks on a beautiful new running track, and kids playing everywhere. It seemed just really nice, and a fairly close-knit neighborhood.
Oh, and for Jose, who asked about the crowds of identical supporters and their identical “Thundersticks,” here’s an article I found about them. It seems to be a fairly accurate depiction of what’s going on.