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BEIJING 2008 : COMMENTARY

So far, Games have been unbelievable

August 14, 2008|Mike Downey | Chicago Tribune

Beijing

When he was 5, a cute boy from Southern California by the name of Nuufolau Joel Seanoa -- now a 29-year-old pro wrestler known as "Samoa Joe" -- performed a Polynesian dance at the opening ceremony of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics.

Didn't he?

A gentleman named William P. "Bill" Suitor also lowered himself from the sky into the Coliseum that night strapped to a Tyler Rocket Belt jet pack.

Didn't he?

Later in those same Games, the popular singer Lionel Richie entertained a full house at the closing ceremony by singing his hit song "All Night Long" all night long, or at least what felt like all night long.

Didn't he?

But wait. What if it was all a big fake? You know, like Clifford Irving and Milli Vanilli and Jayson Blair. A hoax. A sham. A con.

Suppose it wasn't actually a 5-year-old tot doing a Polynesian dance but a tiny, pubescent preteen pretending to be 5? Suppose the human rocket was really a Hollywood stuntman hanging from a wire like a Broadway version of Peter Pan?

And hmmm, was that the real Lionel Richie out there all night long or was it a Lionel Richie impersonator? Maybe it was some lounge act from Lake Tahoe they hired to mimic the authentic Lionel, moving his lips to a Memorex cassette tape. (Hey, it was 1984.)

OK, OK . . . preposterous.

Except, here we are at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where quite a few of us are beginning to wonder whether we can believe our eyes and ears.

For example:

What do you make of that absolutely adorable 9-year-old Lin Miaoke who sang so enchantingly at the opening ceremony turning out to be a lip-syncher, the voice in question actually belonging to a rudely gonged 7-year-old girl named Yang Peiyi?

What about some of those spectacular fireworks that made you go "ooooh" and "aaaah" turning out to be digitally inserted into your TV picture because not all of those bursts everybody witnessed here in person could be effectively captured by a camera?

How do you feel about seeing China's star-spangled banner atop a flagpole flapping in the breeze, inasmuch as there was no breeze, a hidden air blower on the pole making the gonfalon so proudly wave?

A little theatrical license or a little Chinese chicanery?

Run this one up your flagpole: Olympic organizers are now acknowledging that a reason you haven't noticed more empty spaces in the grandstands at Beijing's events is that a herd of young volunteer workers is being rounded up to fill in unoccupied or unsold seats.

Hey, if the Academy Awards can have a seat-filler jump in while Jack Nicholson ducks out to the restroom, why not here?

Perception is everything. You get to decide for yourself what represents reality and what distorts it.

Let's say you land in Beijing and all you can see is air. Air, air everywhere, but not a gulp of fresh oxygen to spare.

Assurances come your way from local media outlets including BOB TV, the official Beijing Olympics broadcast network, that you must be seeing things, all right, but it ain't pollution, no sirree, Bob. You might think the air is bad, you are duly informed, but the air is actually quite good.

In other words, who are you going to believe, us or your lying eyes?

Take a peek at those cute-as-a-Pekingese-puppy Chinese gymnasts. You know which ones: The nimble young tumblers who wowed the home crowd by winning the women's all-around competition Wednesday morning.

Or should it be called girls' gymnastics instead? Exactly how old are these gold-medal sprites?

"They are obviously kids -- 12 or 14, max -- and you are telling the world they are 16?" bellyaches Bela Karolyi, the former U.S. gym guru whose wife is now in charge. "What arrogance!"

He Kexin is 16, they say. Jiang Yuyuan, likewise. Yang Yilin will have a sweet-16 party next week. Each of them weighs about as much as Tinkerbell. A strong gust of wind from that flag-blower could carry off all three of them from here to Shanghai.

Karolyi considers it as unfair as "cheating with doping" to let underage mini-mice compete.

OK, so our own American women (so to speak) don't exactly need Botox or qualify for Medicaid. No matter. It isn't proper for a team to use a gaggle of girls so young that each of them makes Kerri Strug look like Meryl Streep.

And speaking of too young...

(Too Young not being the name of one of the gymnasts.)

Please pity pretty little Yang Peiyi. A wee lass with a huge larynx, she learned and rehearsed a song called "Ode to the Motherland" to be played at the opening ceremony on that glorious evening of 08/08/08, when a reported 4 billion television viewers would be hanging on every word.

She apparently made a recording of it as well. We know this because with the moment of truth at hand, Yang Peiyi was told that the show must go on -- without her.

Someone, either an Olympic official or a Beijing booking agent -- we are told it was the former -- came to the conclusion that Yang Peiyi was cute as a button, yet not quite as cute as 9-year-old Lin Miaoke, a pigtailed kewpie doll in a red dress who came into the Bird's Nest and belted out the old Ode.

Or pretended to belt it.

Channeling her inner Ashlee Simpson, the photogenic Lin opened her mouth and all the words came out, but the voice belonged to somebody else -- Yang.

Yikes. Welcome to show biz, kids.

It wouldn't be such a shame if not for the fact that lip-synchin' Lin was immediately proclaimed a shining star. It was as if BOB-TV had launched a show called "Chinese Idol" and Lin was hailed as the Asian Kelly Clarkson.

Well, what you see isn't always what you get.

Luciano Pavarotti lip-synched at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin. He was large and old and ill and no one seemed to mind. No one probably would have objected even if Italy had tried to pass him off as a gymnast.

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