Monday, August 11, 2008

Superstitions Surround Beijing Olympics

IT DIDN'T surprise me when the Chinese selected the Beijing Olympics to start at 8 p.m. on the eighth day of the eighth month. After all, eight has long been considered a lucky number.
For that reason, Chinese couples by the score were wed on that day just as the Games began with a spectacular light show as the world watched the proceedings from the Bird’s Nest stadium.
However, there were others in the millions which had a premonition that disasters were waiting in the wings. There have been numerous stories that the five cartoon characters spelling out “Beijing Welcomes You” really could have placed an omen on the Chinese entering the modern era.
In those reports, the five mascots of a panda, a Tibetan antelope, a flame, a fish and a swallow were somehow connected with a massive earthquake, a train collision, floods, the Tibetan uprising and even dire economic news.
And while the Games opening, seemingly, went off without a hitch, on first day of competition there were reports that two of the Games’ VIP visitors – Russia’s Putin and America’s Bush – were decidedly on opposite sides of the fence as Russia attacked U.S.-backed Georgia over the disputed region of South Ossetia. It could eventually escalate into a major confrontation between the two powers.
Then there was the savage murder of a Beijing visitor – Todd Bachman – and serious injuries to his wife, Barbara, at the Drum Tower and the suicide of their attacker. Bachman was the father of a former Olympian and the father-in-law of the U.S. Olympic volleyball coach Hugh McCutcheon.
So while superstition, curses, jinxes and sayings surrounding good and bad luck may edge towards the ridiculous, we’ve all been caught up in its wake.
How often have you crossed your fingers? What does it all mean? When I looked it up I found that making “the sign of the Christian faith with our fingers, evil spirits would be prevented from destroying our chances of good fortune.”
Then there are such common-place sayings as “Knock on wood,” and the explanation was the belief that good spirits lived in trees and with the knock those spirits were alerted to protect us from misfortune.
Some other “good-luck traits” included sleeping facing south; avoiding cracks in the sidewalk (Step in a crack, break your mother’s back); see a penny, pick it up; all day long you will have good luck.
Then there were “bad luck” omens such as Friday the 13th; walking under a ladder; black cats and spilling salt. Others in that category encompass seeing an owl during daylight; breaking a mirror means seven years of bad luck and, of course, it’s extremely unlucky to open an umbrella inside a house.
While superstitions and the like spreads into every area of our lives, whether we admit them or not, those that push the limit most often involve sports figures, which use such words as “daily rituals.”
If a pitcher in baseball is on a hot streak he might not shave for a fortnight. After all he doesn’t want to tempt fate. Is that bad fate or good fate?
One of the great “superstition” stories involved outfielder Kevin Rhomberg, who had a two-year career with the Cleveland Indians in the 1980s..
Larry Stone once wrote in the Seattle Times that Rhomberg was the Rajah of Rituals and also the Sultan of Spells. His passion and legacy was his “need to touch back someone who had just touched him.”
An example of his “fetish” was when he and Dan Rohn were playing winter ball in Venezuela. Rohn apparently touched Rhomberg and then proceeded to hid from him for hours.
Stone then related the ending of that story: “Rohn eventually returned to his hotel, thinking he had outfoxed Rhomberg. But at 3 in the morning, there was a knock at his door. A sleepy Rohn stumbled out of bed to open it.” Then Rohn added the kicker: “It was Rhomberg. He touched me and then ran away.” Now that’s perseverance.
Besides “touching” passion, Stone also related stories about Canada’s own Larry Walker, who considered the number “3” sacred; the great Wade Boggs of the Boston Red Sox, who had a definite routine in reaching the dugout after batting practice and then there was reliever Turk Wendell, who chewed four pieces of black licorice, spit it out after each inning and then brushed his teeth in the dugout.
Of course, there are other sporting traditions, also known as “rituals” from the good luck charm of tossing an octopus onto to the ice at the Joe. It must have worked for the Detroit Red Wings won the Stanley Cup earlier this year. Then there was Tiger Woods wearing a red shirt ALWAYS on a Sunday. Of course, red symbolizes good luck in Thailand, where Woods’ mother, Kutilda, was born, according to Forbes’ Tom Van Riper.
While there might not be any scientific facts connecting superstitions and omens relating to the Beijing Olympics, some have now seen any numbers reaching 8 as “unlucky.” Some online experts said the worst snowstorm struck on 25/01. That totals 8. Then the Tibetan riots were 14/03 and the earthquake occurred on 12/05. All adding up to 8 and the Games began on 08. 08. 08.


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