The opening ceremony was a treat, with spectacle, humor, history and local tradition all mooshed together and then blown up. It was wonderfully free of militaristic posturing or scary mass unison use of people as automata , regrettably omitted knights in armor and King Arthur, and had a nice combination of British pride and self-deprecation, or at least understatement and wit. For a foreigner, it had a quality of Jeopardy quiz (I am quietly proud of having identified both The Tempest and I.K. Brunel). It must have been fun for the live audience, but very different, because a lot of full-screen content for us was presumably scoreboard videos squoze into a very small visual angle for people in the venue.
An essential element of these things seems to be the parade of athletes as national ‘teams’, obviously fun for the athletes though pretty long. I think the Olympics would be improved by potting down this insistent angle in medal ceremonies and coverage. Some events are reasonably national competitions, as there doesn’t seem any other way to make up a league of, say, basketball teams for a one-off tournament that would be of any interest. But the endless reporting of medal counts by country, and flagraising for someone who wins an individual event, which nearly all are, is crosswise to the original spirit of the modern Olympics and feels a lot like a cold war leftover, East Germany’s steroid-soaked ghost.
A nice antidote to this is here, an interactive graph correcting medal scores by national GNP and population. The big winners by these much more reasonable standards are surprising.