Tuesday, 19 August 2008

The Slip

Of all the stories I read before I travelled to Beijing, I can't remember one touching on the Chinese sense of humour. They were usually about lack of freedom, shady political practices and economic hegemony.

But anything about what makes people chortle? Nichts.

A sense of humour does exist. For example: the army of volunteers who have been helping us around the Olympic sites have been instructed to smile at every opportunity possible.

I also need look no further than the manufacturers of the scones available in the press centre cafes. Well the makers must be having a laugh on the poor saps who buy the scone to find that it crumbles into a thousand pieces when it’s cut or bitten.

And whoever decided to dream up cheerleaders for entertainment must be laughing all the way to somewhere.

I spotted a few on Monday night at the Natonal Stadium in the mixed zone - the area where the athletes come and chew over their performances with the media. I noticed them because they were carrying green frills rather than clunky camera combos.

On Tuesday morning I went to see the reigning Olympic champions Germany take on New Zealand in the men's hockey.

There waas an edge about the final Group A match as both sides needed to win to go into the last four.

Germany scored two early goals and went into the half-time break nursing that advantage. As the players walked off the pitch, blaring music went on and spectators started moving towards the refreshment booths. So far so usual.

And then on came 12 young women in red bikini tops and red skirts. They formed two ranks of six either side of the half way line and snapped to attention.

Silence. Then on came a sort of pumped up Bollywood tectonic. The troupe shook the necessary areas of their bodies as they were intertwined and waved their tambourines and frills.

They must be volunteers, I thought, because they’re smiling.

But I would imagine cheerleaders are supposed to look joyous.

The girls gambolled awhile and in truth it was the most flair I’d seen for a good 20 minutes as a technically efficient German side ground down their opponents.

Sadly the cheerleaders finished their routine just I was starting to fully appreciate their artistic interpretations.

Shortly after the last of the tambourines jingled off, the water fountains came on to spray the pitch.

Sigmund Freud would have chuckled at that one.