Both Mojo and I were commenting on the "crowds" (i.e. lack of same) along the course during both the men's and women's road races.
Outside of a smattering of apparently casual strollers all the "spectators" appeared to be the usual PRCOC-mandated levies and seat-filling "cheerleaders" (see below). After the maddened throngs packing the slopes of the Col de Tourmalet and the finishes of every stage of the Tour these deserted hills and streets looked and felt VERY strange. Is there just no fan base for cycling in a country with more bicycles than automobiles? Did the PRC discourage spectators; did they not have buses to take people out to the finishing circuits and back? Either way, we had a hard time understanding why there is no enthusiasm for the sport in a nation of cyclists.
One interesting aspect of having so many different sports and games packed into one spectacle is the display of the incredible variability of the human genome. From tiny girl gymnasts through vertiginous women vollyballers with a whole range of in-between shapes and sizes: divers, soccer players, equestrians, archers and marks-men and -women who wouldn't stand out from a crowd in their street clothes to the almost-freakishly massive weightlifters, gracile ectomorphic pole vaulters, dainty synchronized swimmers. Humans are really amazingly adaptable.
And speaking of evolutionary pressure: fencing is one bizarrely freaking mutated sport. Think of the origins of the beast; an academic approach to the art of slaughter, a scientific deconstruction of butchery. Each weapon tailored to the task: saber for the horseman, the epee for the duelist (with the foil as a practice weapon).I was fascinated watching my homegirl Mariel Zagunis in saber - the art is almost, no, IS, unrecognizable as a fighting art. The saber was a cutting weapon; killing and injuring with a saber depended on a full cut landing on the target head, arms or torso. To successfully fight with l'arme blanche required massive arm and wrist strength as well as terrific quickness. Descriptions of Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian battlefield saber fighting talked about "whirling" blows and "smashing" cuts - clearly, a saber fighter had to be both quick and very strong above the waist.
But when Zagunis fences you immediately notice several things:
a. She has great quickness of both hand- and footwork, but she holds the saber low along her hip and strikes almost entirely with the wrist, using the arm only to gain extension. Her strikes are pure speed, she never lands more than a tiny fraction of the blade (usually just the tip), and,
b. she has delightful, massive thighs and a beautifully parabolic and powerful ass, both of which launch her driving attacks - her "leaping lunge" is a poem written in bone and muscle. Her main strength is below the waist.And neither of these would help her if she was planning to use her skills to win a single combat on horseback with a cutting weapon.
So we see evolutionary pressure at work in sport: the eclipse of swordfighting as a means of battlefield killing has made fencing entirely academic. As such it has become minutely focused on the need to score a simple, bloodless touch on the target; a hit which in battle would barely have distracted an enemy, much less disabled or killed. Zagunis the fencer exists only because Zagunis the fighter doesn't have to.
I missed the last summer Olympics so I have no idea whether the concept of "Olympic cheerleaders" is purely a Beijing invention or not. It seems too bizarrely Western to have originated at this event; I can't see some pudgy, Mao-jacketed Party apparatchik laying down a stack of drawings of these costumed pom-pom/jazzercise/C&W/Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders in the concept meeting to explain to his revolutionary comrades the idea of the Peppy Cheerleader versus the Sexy Cheerleader.
Regardless, based on the evidence, the Chinese have taken the whole "let's draft a bunch of lissome young women and put them in skimpy costumes to gyrate for the crowd during time-outs and on the sidelines" concept to it's extreme. Whether it's the beach bunny,the cowgirl, the belly dancer, the what-the-hell-kind-of-fantasy-critters-are-these,or even Sheena, Queen of the Jungle,the Beijing Olympic Cheerleaders have got whatever you want in male-fantasy-oriented-Olympic-cheering.
Now if we could only figure out what the hell they're cheering FOR.