Attending actual events wasn't really a high priority for the English, baby! team in China. We figured everyone would be covering those, so we'd cover the culture around the games.
But the one thing I knew I couldn't miss—the only ticket I bought in advance—was for that most mighty of Olympic sports: Table tennis. That's right, pong.
I just like the idea of an Olympic sport you can play in a bar. And though I've been playing ping pong since I was little (my parents still have a table at their house), I've always known there was a whole level above the way I experience the game.
When Zach (a.k.a. Captain Jeff) and I arrived at the Peking University Arena, we rechristened it the Ping Pong Dojo because it's huge (think college basketball) and decorated with images of table tennis.
Inside, there were 8 games going on at once. It was hard to see what was going from our crummy seats, but we could see that these were real athletes. Many of their thighs could have belonged to cyclists.
After being thwarted several times by the ubiquitous Olympic volunteers, we managed to reach the front row. There we discovered that we were sitting among the tennis coaching squad, who explained how the game works. First there's a singles match, and then a doubles match. If one team wins one and one wins the other, then the singles who didn't play each other at the beginning settle the tie. We watched the American women lose to Singapore without a tie-breaker.
But Taiwan and Brazil went to a second singles match. Each time the Taiwanese scored, they would give a mighty karate shout. The Chinese (who have at various times in history ruled Taiwan and arguably do now) were rooting for Taiwan and chanting "Ja-yo," which means "add oil" and is the Chinese version of "let's go." (When this was explained to me and I said it seemed quite strange, the question was posed, "go where?"...to which I had no response.)
During this game, one of the tennis coaches received a text, stood up and shouted, "Phelps won a fourth medal! He broke the record!" By the end of the match, he had won a fifth as well.