Let the Games Begin

The Summer Olympics! A time when the finest athletes in the world can come together, run around, throw things, have their fluid specimens tested, and insist that yes, they've totally heard of Bahrain and can find it on a map. With the Games of the XXIX Olympiad just hours away, we here at AN wanted to take a few moments to get you up to speed.

Where are the games being held? Beijing, population 47,600,000. Including commuters and outlying suburbs, on any given day Beijing is home to 254,000,000. The electric company alone — the People's Glorious Energy Concern of Beijing Prefecture (PGECBP) — has more employees than Los Angeles has people.

How are the games being given an authentic touch of China? Chinese culture is evident throughout the event's design, from the torch itself to the mascots, which look like they're about to form some sort of panda-related Voltron. Acclaimed Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou is directing the opening ceremony. Also, medalists will feel like competing again about half an hour after winning.

How many athletes from around the world will be in attendance? Around 500, only slightly less than an average Division I college football team roster.

What are some of the new sports featured in this Olympiad? Bass fishing, unicycling, synchronized punting, downhill somersault, speed squatting (100m and 500m), roof hockey, bungee golf, hot saw, and canine frisbee catch.

What's the word for something that happens every four years? 'Quadrennial.'

It's not 'tetrennial?' No.

Are you sure? Because I could've swo— It's not.

Okay fine. What are some of the controversies surrounding the Beijing Olympics? Human rights groups have been protesting ever since China was awarded the games by the IOC in 2001. China's record on human rights in general and towards Tibet in particular have been a lightning rod of attention as the opening ceremony approaches.

Yikes, that's a bit of a downer. Anything more palatable? Well, there's the smog threatening to coat the entire event in a gray film.

Still a little dour. Keep going. How about the attack of the green goop?

Bingo! An aggressive algae has been spreading along the coastal waters where the sailing events will take place. The algae is so thick it makes whole swaths of the bay look like Centre Court at Wimbledon. Chinese officials dispatched thousands of soldiers to clean it up, and deputized thousands of fishermen to assist. They appear to have cleared the goop out of the racing areas ... or so the goop would have us believe.

How many times are we going to hear 'global village' over the next two weeks? Dozens. Perhaps hundreds if they give Costas a lot of mic time.

Hey, wait a minute, I get it! "Take a few moments to get you up to speed!" As in, like, track & field! Yes, uh ... great. Well spotted.

Remember when watching the Olympics used to be a big deal? Indeed I do. Call it a casualty of the Digital Age. With the average person's media use shattered into a thousand pieces and sprinkled over the day like Bac-O-Bits, there are simply too many outlets competing for attention. When Carl Lewis was breaking records in 1984, we all watched because "Webster" was in reruns. (The fact that we were waiting for new episodes of "Webster" probably says a lot about our media habits in those days too.) These days, our patience for such things has gone off its Ritalin. Hell, I can use a dashboard widget to find out who won the Japan-US soccer match without actually taking my eyes off of typing this sentence. Hey look! The US prevailed, 1-0. To its credit, the Digital Age is fighting back the best way it knows how — relentless media saturation. NBC is planning, no joke, 3,600 hours of coverage. That's 3,216 hours more than the games themselves will last. We'll have Olympics on eight partner networks, Olympics online, Olympics on our cell phones. And perhaps that's the trade-off. Instead of every person watching one thing, one person can watch everything.

Where are the next Olympics? Vancouver will host the 2010 winter games. The 2012 summer games will be in London, where they will be referred to as "bangers & mash."