As a sports fanatic and traveler who’s always been fascinated by the intersection of nationalism and sport, I never miss the Parade of Nations during the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games. It’s a little like a quick stroll around the world in that you get a look at athletes from 204 countries around the globe.
You can tell a lot about a country based on how their athletes dress and the way they carry themselves. It’s also a gas to listen to the broadcasters as they try to find something interesting to say about each country and their contingent. In case you missed the parade last night, here are some of the highlights and lowlights.
Borat Makes a Cameo- As the athletes from Kazakhstan made their way into the arena, I had a premonition that Bob Costas and Matt Lauer were going to say something about Borat and sure enough, they did, making reference to the fact that Borat’s version of the Kazakh anthem was played for a Kazakh athlete who won a gold medal at a shooting competition in Kuwait in March.
Andorra’s Old Geezer- Costas took comfort in noting that Joan Tomàs Roca, a 61-year-old sports shooter who served as Andorra’s flag bearer is a year older than he is. But I don’t think Roca’s had nearly as much work done.Coolest Hats- Congratulations to the Olympic contingent from Lesotho, which clearly had the best hats of the evening. Their conical, pointy bamboo hats made them look a bit like Vietnamese rice farmers.
Most Ridiculous Hats: The group from Belize was wearing the kind of hats you’d see on a carnival barker. Why?
Ignominious Distinction: As the athletes from poor Bangladesh entered the stadium, Costas informed American viewers that Bangladesh is the largest country never to win an Olympic medal as their athletes snapped photos and waved to the crowd. Woo-hoo! Now there’s something to shout about.
Most Colorful Robes- When the Cameroonian athletes were introduced, I nearly had to adjust my television set. They wore blinding, black and red robes with almost every color of the rainbow thrown in somewhere. An “A” for effort.
You Wore What? They were only on my screen for a matter of seconds, but I swear the Chilean contingent looked like extras from Zorro the Gay Blade.
Inane Commentary Part 1- Croatia’s flag bearer was a handball goalkeeper, prompting Matt Lauer to make one of the evening’s dumbest remarks.
“Handball – this is a sport that doesn’t have a great foothold in the U.S., but if you’re looking to get an Olympic medal, this would be a good sport to take up,” he said, seemingly at least half serious.
Right, the sport isn’t popular here, so go ahead and take it up, you’ll be sure to get an Olympic medal in it.
Um, We Have Nothing Whatsoever to Say About These Countries- Costas and Lauer had something to say about almost every country but in a few cases they just said the name of the country and nothing else. Surely, the Republic of Congo, Cote D’Ivoire and the other snubbed countries are seething this morning.
Smile!- I wasn’t surprised that the athletes from North Korea weren’t smiling, (you’d be grimacing if you lived there too) but why did the flag bearers from Cape Verde and Armenia look like they were ready to kill someone? I guess they had their game faces on.
A Dig on Badminton and the Danes- Costas introduced the Danish team by mentioning that they were the best non-Asian nation at Badminton. Hmmmm. That probably ranks right up there with being the best at table tennis, excluding the Chinese. And after that ignominious distinction, Costas couldn’t resist a dig at the sport writ large.
“And if you’re looking for badminton coverage, and who isn’t, you can find it on nbcolympics.com,” he said.
Nice Boots!- The Czech team was decked out in some snazzy bright blue rubber rain boots, in a nice dig at the notoriously crap English weather.
Please Drug Test the Independent Olympic Athletes Contingent- There were four “stateless” athletes who came out under the Independent Olympic Athletes grouping and they all clearly looked like they were on something. A blonde from The Netherlands Antilles was jumping around more than an extra in a House of Pain video.
Did George Washington Sire Any Children in Palau?- If anyone can explain to me why Palau’s flag bearer was wearing what appeared to be a colonial-era wig, please let me know in the comments section.
Give That Man a Meal- Mike Tebulo, a marathon runner who served as Malawi’s flag bearer looked like he weighs about 100 pounds. (And according to his bio, he’s actually 119 lbs!)
Coolest Headcovering- Zamzam Mohamed Farah, a track athlete who was Somalia’s flag bearer, wore a power blue head-covering with a big star on her forehead. Without knowing what the cultural significance of this outfit is, I can only say that I thought it was the most badass costume of the night.
Giving Nauru a Break- Lauer mentioned that Nauru had the smallest Olympic delegation but failed to mention that it’s the fattest country in the world.
Ugliest Shirts- OK, Togo, I’m talking to you here. What was up with the garish, gold floral patterned shirts?
Shiny, Happy Spaniards- As I said from the outset, you can tell a lot about a country based upon how its athletes carry themselves and the Spaniards looked like they’d just come from a bar, befitting their nation’s late night party ethos.
Cheer Up Eritrea- So perhaps the Eritrean team has no chance at winning any medals, but why were they so dour looking? Was it the fact that they were kitted out in somber looking gray suits? Or did someone replace their coffee with Folgers crystals?
TEAM USA: Not Tough Enough- I was not a fan of Team USA’s Ralph Lauren metrosexual made-in-China outfits with the big polo player logos and cheesy berets. We want to intimidate people, don’t we? I think we could have taken a lesson from American Samoa, which had a few Rambo-esque shirtless dudes in tribal garb leading their contingent. Now he looked tough.