I had to get out of Beijing. I was going a little stir-crazy in my new life – wake up, watch athletics, have lunch, watch more athletics, go to sleep... I'm not complaining – it's a dream job and I'm loving every second of the experience – it's just that, for all the excitement, the Olympic Park is a pretty sterile zone and sometimes you can start to forget that you're in China.
So a trip to the Great Wall was just what the traditional Chinese doctor ordered. A group of us set off with a driver to make the hour-and-a-half journey to the Mutianyu Section – a supposedly less touristy part of the structure (it's a myth that you can see the thing from space but it is huge – five thousand kilometres to be precise). We drove out of Beijing, past Ring Road One, Two Three, Four, Five, Six... this is a city that is growing at a quite extraordinary pace. Finally we left its confines and drove up into lush green jagged hills alongside a river where fishermen squatted amid huge sunflowers.
We eventually arrived at our destination to find it absolutely packed with tourists. The Great Wall has never been so popular, especially on these Olympic weekends. We took a handy but slightly rickety chairlift up to one of the watchtowers. Once we'd summited, the hardier of our group embarked on a steep walk further up the wall to another tower. This was not my first time on the Wall – I was here filming four years ago for my BBC1 show World Shut Your Mouth and had made this mistake back then.
The Wall is spectacularly steep in some areas and climbing endless steps in this humidity really takes it out of the non-Olympian. They eventually returned, drenched in sweat and we decided to head down. As we approached the chairlift we spotted a huge queue heading off in another direction. Upon enquiring as to what it was for we were told that there was a huge, mile-long slide that you could take to get back down to the bottom. It looked excellent fun so we decided to brave the long queue packed with off-duty athletes, journalists and tourists – all, like us, getting a little break from the capital.
Forty-five minutes later and we were nearly at the front when two Chinese policemen pushed their way past us. They grabbed a microphone and announced to the waiting queue in pretty good English that – "the USA men's basketball team are visitors to Great Wall. Team need to go ahead of everybody and go down now because they late for very important match."
I had spotted a large group of Americans standing unhappily at the back of our queue. There were certainly two giants among them who looked like they might play the game – one turned out to be Dwayne Wade who plays for the "Miami Heat" but the rest of the bunch was a motley collection of very overweight women and a couple of sweating pensioners. If this was the US "Redeem" team then they were in trouble. I also happened to know that they weren't playing anybody until the following evening when they were scheduled to play Germany.
No, in my mind these Olympic hangers-on were using their "exalted" status to queue-jump and I wasn't having it.
"I'm on the GB 300 metres relay team," I shouted, "we need to get back to Beijing to train." Someone else in the queue piped up – "We are the Slovenian handball team – we also need to return to Beijing quickly." Another lone wag shouted – "I am Spartacus..."
Everyone but the Americans dissolved into giggles. Despite our protestations, this motley collection of obese and, it has to be said, pretty arrogant Americans were brought forward and started sliding down one by one while we were all held back. They seemed totally unfazed by the queue's indignation while some even started to hang around taking photographs of each other throwing "gangsta" poses as they sat at the entrance to the slide. This was the final straw- the whole queue started to mumble and jeer... I have to admit to starting a chant of "BooSA... BooSA" and this was quickly picked up until everyone was chanting it.
The rest of the "squad" hot-footed it sharpish down the slide. It was a spectacular display of how not to make friends in foreign climes. If I was a basketball fan then I'd have been tempted to go along and boo at their next match: most of the queue was certainly promising to. When we got to the bottom ourselves – there were the "team" ambling around doing some leisurely shopping in the makeshift tourist market. All worries about their important forthcoming "match" seemingly forgotten.
It was no big deal really but, in these fragile geopolitical times, you'd think that the world's only superpower and their hangers–on might show just a little more tact. I've heard of ping-pong diplomacy – it might be time for a little in basketball as well...Reuse content