By Austin Shiner
BEIJING, China, 4:03 p.m. — Four hours and counting. This city is ready — you may have read that surface-to-air missiles guard the National Stadium. It’s true. Some of the rocket canisters are said to hold fireworks – here’s to hoping that the launch operator hasn’t partaken in any Opening Ceremony alcoholic festivities.
The excitement is palpable. And this just in: as of five minutes ago distinct rays of sunshine broke through the Beijing haze. The pollution will undoubtedly be a problem: no one here wears a dust mask (although everyone probably should). I’ve written before about the Beijing bubble, the shroud of pollution that obscures the sky and surrounding hills. But tonight none of that matters: its Beijing’s night. No way will dirty air obscure China’s greatest moment on the world stage. But those rays of sun have now vanished, covered over by the Chinese economic miracle once more.
I discovered something amid the throngs of western and local revelers clogging Wangfujing shopping district last night. Searching for Beijing’s most famous roast duck restaurant, I somehow entered an enormous mall. Spread throughout the walkways were Nike-sponsored installations displaying Chinese, Russian, Canadian, and American Olympic uniforms on action-posed mannequins. One particularly memorable scene depicted a hurdle race – extraordinarily muscular mannequins sprinted around a curved track This was odd: every installation depicted a victorious Chinese athlete, always a hair quicker, a hair stronger than the American right behind. You aren’t surprised? I wouldn’t be either, except that Nike built these installations, each ersatz competitor covered in swooshes. Has Nike, an American company deeply entrenched in American Olympic history, sold out to China by implicitly supporting Chinese Olympic aspirations over ours? Of course it’s a ridiculous notion on some level, it’s just marketing, and what’s wrong with Chinese nationalism? Yet it felt wrong, as if Nike was cavorting with our rivals. Gut feelings are unpredictable, and on Olympic eve it seemed that Nike was playing both sides of the coin.