Handball Cheerleaders and Thunderstix
After seven days in Beijing, I went to my first sporting event today: the tail end of the Angola-France women's handball game in pool play, followed by the Sweden-Hungary women's showdown. Some highlights from finally watching sports in China:
* Cheerleaders! Sorry, the "Handball Spirit Squad." After the first game but before the second, the Handball Spirit Squad took the court with two large mascots, dancing to "Mickey." The slumbering crowd came to its feet. Cameras flashed everywhere. Men ran down to get closer to the action.
Then, at halftime of the second game, five members of the Handball Spirit Squad re-emerged, this time dressed like cowgirls, and accompanied by five skinnier mascots. They danced to Jet's "Are You Gonna Be My Girl." More flashing cameras. More crowd members rising to their feet.
Some U.S. journalist soon will do a story on Olympic Spirit Squads and the reactions they cause, and every blog in the world will link to it.
* Goal music! After some goals, celebratory music played. For example: Chumbawamba's Tubthumping. Classic handball anthem.
* Thunderstix! There were two groups of Chinese fans in matching costumes, one behind each goal, one cheering for each team. They had pom-poms and thunderstix. The thunderstix read "Cheering From Beijing Workers." The man leading the Hungarian Chinese Cheering Workers was particularly enthusiastic.
"We can do it!" he would shout. "Jiayou!" the Beijing Workers would answer, the Chinese chant for "Let's Go!" which literally means "Add Some Gas!"
"We can do it! Jiayou! We can do it! Jiayou!" I hear the chants even now, rumbling inside my ears. I felt like I was at some agitprop performance titled "How To Create Glorious Triumphant Handball Success."
* Concessions! And they were easily the emptiest concession stands I've seen in my life. Like, at halftime of the second game, there were exactly zero people in line at the concession stands. And this with beer going for $1.25. Early morning Chinese women's handball crowds aren't necessarily the rowdiest in the sporting world, I guess. Although the Olympic Merchandise Stand right next to the food regularly attracted more passionate crowds than the actual competition.
Quote Sheets! "It was a bit shocking to see a friend coming out with blood running from her head," France right wing Maakan Tounkara said of Camille Ayglon's first-half injury.
Americans! "Bonjour!" screamed David Lai--wearing a Champaign Urbana t-shirt--at a random French handball player as she conducted her post-game television interview. "Bonjour! Show some love!"
She didn't show any love. Then David--yelling down to the floor of the venue from the second level of seats--asked me to throw him something. Like my hat. Instead I tried to throw him a granola bar. The granola bar came to rest on a little ledge above the heads of the volunteers, in front of the Beijing 2008 banner. A good showing by the Americans. Why were they there?
"We couldn't get any other tickets," explained Jason Hsu, another member of the party.
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