|What is the No. 1 sport at the Beijing Summer Olympics? Gymnastics, swimming, basketball or track and field? The answer is none of the above. It’s picture taking, hands down. Everywhere you turn in this capital city, especially near Olympic venues, cameras are raised and someone is posing or smiling. No special skills or training are needed for this event. It’s international friendly and everyone it seems wants to freeze an Olympic memory with one click of a shutter.
The cameras are as diverse as the people carrying them. There are palm-size models, ones with long lenses, even some mounted on fancy tripods. Curiously, there are very few video cameras. Chinese officials have discouraged their use, fearing I guess a host of silly things winding up on You Tube, or worse. However, there are TV crews roaming most Olympic sites, recording the “man on the street” view from this muggy metropolis. At least 4 channels on Chinese TV are carrying The Games start-to-finish 24/7 in this nation of 1.3 billion people. The problem is the broadcasts are in Chinese, a steep challenge when my command of the language extends to “hello” and “thank you” and “Tsingtao,” a popular Chinese beer. So I sit nearly every night here in Beijing staring at a TV screen wishing for my 10 o’clock ESPN sports center update in English.
But there is no language barrier when it comes to snapping photos. The pantheon for picture taking is the Bird’s Nest, the architecturally stunning and awe inspiring Beijing National Stadium, where the Opening Ceremonies unfolded. Located north of downtown Beijing in the Olympic Green, the stadium and the Olympic torch are a magnet for shutterbugs. Late in the afternoon on our second day here, I spent nearly 2 hours photographing people photographing other people. It became a fixation watching others position, direct, nudge, command and beg their subjects to smile, move to the left or get crazy for the cameras. It is the best entertainment value so far at The Games. The price of admission to watch this Woody Allenesque comedy is free and I loved it.
In one sequence, I witnessed a big Belgium family holding their national flag and waving in front of the Olympic Stadium. Nearby, 3 U.S. college students from the University of Missouri were hamming it. And then there were the Chinese. This is their special moment and they all seem to want a digital keepsake. They mugged and hugged for the cameras. Groups of Chinese girls in heels and summer dresses flirted with photographers like Marilyn Monroe. One elderly couple went old school and stood at attention while holding a red flag. And one little Chinese boy not more than 5 did pushups on the hot concrete as his mother squatted to take pictures.
If you own stock in Canon or Nikon or Olympus cameras you should feel pretty good about your investment right about now. The sport of photography is alive and well is this Olympic city. Check out below some of the photos of people taking pictures. Leave me a comment and let me know which one is your favorite.