Nothing comes close to The Open

One week has passed, eight days remain. To me, among tennis’ four Grand Slams, nothing is more riotous, whopping, lively, and earsplitting than the US Open.

Nine Augusts ago—back in 1999—I was lucky to have stepped inside Flushing Meadows together with my dad Bunny and another father-and-son tandem, Paquito and Fabby Borromeo. What we saw was everything oversized: massive crowds, colossal stadiums, larger-than-life players—a Slam unlike any other.

Take Roland Garros. While the French speak a different tongue, drink champagne at side-streets and swing racquets on clay, in New York it’s brash, trash talk, Budweiser beer and the US Open hard-court.

From Jackie Chan to Beckham, bye-bye China

Two nights ago wasn’t the Closing Ceremony—that was a party. After 16 days of glitch-free Olympics that showcased world-class venues and introduced the warmth of the Chinese army of 1.5 million volunteers, the XXIX Games ended the way it began: with fireworks. For who, but our giant neighbors, can invent pyrotechnics that form the five Olympic rings on air? Or, at the program’s start, show the numbers “9,” “8,” “7,” all the way to “1” using the black night as canvas and fireworks as the paintbrush?

What a celebration! Compared to the formal walk of the 10,000-plus athletes during The Opening, the other night was a reggae, a fiesta, a gala, a carnival. When the Olympiads were called, they paraded inside the Bird’s Nest with no sequence, like little ants, mixed among nations, embracing, arms-locking, many donning gold medals on their necks.

After the 8-8-8 Games conclude, our score: 0-0-0

Harry Tañamor lost in the first round. Eric Ang lost in the first round. Mark Javier lost in the first round. Henry Dagmil and Maristella Torres lost in the first round. So did swimmers Miguel Molina, James Walsh, Daniel Coakley, Ryan Arabejo and Christel Simms. Sheila Mae Perez lost in the first round. Same with our last hope in taekwondo, Toni Rivero and Thsomlee Go—all ousted in Round One.

The conclusion? It was RP’s worst showing on earth’s greatest show.

Our neighbors, how did they perform? Vietnam won one silver, Singapore won one silver, Malaysia another silver, Thailand one gold and one silver, Indonesia one gold, one silver and three bronze medals—while our nation which proudly claimed to be the 23rd Southeast Asian (SEA) Games champions just three years ago won nula. Kosong. Neoni. Nocht. In plain language you and I understand: itlog.

As our journey ends, Rafa and gold glitter

BEIJING-Wasn’t it perfect? Like he had it all planned. Just three hours away from that most-awaited date of “August 18” when he’ll be crowned tennis’ world no. 1, Rafael Nadal stood at that middle podium, raised his Spanish arms to the Beijing skyline, then accepted the sparkling gold medal from his countryman, the IOC president for life, Juan Antonio Samaranch.

Our last night in this city mixed with old culture and new high-rise buildings, what a fitting ending. Camera bulbs flashed. The Spanish flag was raised. Ten thousand avid fanatics jam-packed the Center Court. And, at the center of it all stood one man whose story became history.

The 2008 French Open Champion. The 2008 Wimbledon Champion. And now, the 2008 Beijing Olympics Gold Medalist.

The Bird’s Nest: Finally, we land inside

BEIJING—Apart from not seeing the US “Redeem Team” embarrass everyone in basketball (though we did see Kobe and LeBron in separate sports venues here) and not capturing, with our bare eyes, the historic 8-for-8 achievement of a dolphin named Phelps, our China trip lived up beyond our expectations—especially with what we witnessed two days ago.

For there, fronting us, stood a colossal monument that is the one symbol of the 2008 China Olympics. Costing nearly $500 million, it was built with 36 kms. of unwrapped steel, weighs close to 50,000 tons and occupies a whopping area of 258,000 square meters.

But more than the astronomical figures, it’s the intoxicating beauty of a structure that, when the name “Beijing” will be mentioned from hereon, will appear beside those of The Great Wall and The Forbidden City as a global landmark: The Bird’s Nest.

Timeout from sports, we scaled the Great Wall

BEIJING-Out of the eight days and nights that we’ve camped out here in this Olympic city, the weather has been erratic: When we arrived on 08/08/08, the smog was as thick as smoke. The day after, the sun arose and the sky’s ceiling was painted blue.

The next morning, it rained. The following afternoon, the sky was blurry. And all throughout our stay, it’s been the same two words: unpredictable weather.

Last Wednesday, we booked an excursion to one of the must-see destinations of Beijing (there are three: the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven and)… The Great Wall of China. On that mid-week day, the sun beamed. It will be clear skies on our Friday expedition, we thought.

The ‘People Power’ of the China Olympics

BEIJING — Four nights ago at around 10 p.m., me and my viewing partner during these games — my roommate Jasmin — were lost. We exited the Olympic Green Tennis Center, hopped inside Bus No. 7 and, as we had done the day before, expected to be dropped at a bus stop close to our apartment home.

But, no, the bus stopped midway, somewhere near the Haidian District — miles away from our spot and at a junction that we couldn’t even locate in the map.

As we stepped off the bus and started asking for directions, we encountered blank faces. For this is the story when you trek Beijing: very few speak English. And while we carried a handy Mandarin Chinese translation book, what good is it when they reply back in garbled sounds and we can’t decipher the words?