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LONDON — From a lack of spectators to a lack of collectibles, the Olympics in London don’t seem to compare with the 2008 Games held in Beijing, China.
“I was amazed when I came in one week ago — two days before the opening ceremonies — how vacant the airport terminal was and the subway down to my hotel from Heathrow Airport. London has taken a lot of flack with unused (open) seats in the first few days of the games,” said Paxton native Gary Swanson, an acclaimed television commentator covering the Olympics for an international television station called China Central Television, or CCTV.
In an email Tuesday, in a break between broadcasts, Swanson said “there is a lot of blame going around and also a lot of disgruntled fans — particularly the British who had to enter a lottery to try and get tickets more than a year ago ... and many didn’t get tickets. And now to see all the open seats at many of the venues angers them,” Swanson said.
“Today, Tuesday, the seats are more filled — particularly now at the indoor gymnastics events.”
Another disappointment for Swanson, who is covering his third Olympic Games, is the “lack of signage and Olympic collectibles.”
“You have to look hard to find Olympics flyers — even in the ‘tube’ or subway,” Swanson said. “I collected tons of Olympic pins prior to and during the Beijing games (more than 400). I’m very disappointed with the available pins I’ve found so far.
“And the mascots are not my favorite from the three Olympics I’ve covered.”
It hasn’t been an entirely disappointing experience, of course. The opening ceremonies were a sight to behold, he said.
“After being a live commentator at the Beijing Olympics and describing the opening ceremonies to an international audience, I thought nothing could compare. London did a wonderful job in keeping its heritage and sense of humor while still wowing the audience with the industrial smokestacks, the forging of the Olympic rings with sparks of fire streaming down, and a truly unique Olympic flame copper cauldron. The fireworks were impressive, as well,” Swanson said.
During the Olympics, Swanson is working for two organizations at China Central Television — “Dialogue,” a Beijing talkshow, and as the CCTV London correspondent for CCTV-9 News, the network’s international English channel.
“I worked for both organizations at the Beijing Olympics and had meetings in Beijing for two days prior to my arrival in London last Wednesday,” he said.
In the first week of the London Games, Swanson did a “live-shot/crosstalk” for the “Dialogue” talkshow Friday evening to discuss such topics as the opening ceremonies, the status of Chinese athletes and if London was ready for the Games.
Then on Monday, he appeared as a guest on CCTV News at the Olympic venue studios to discuss security, empty seats and, most important, the swimming competition where American Michael Phelps faltered and a 16-year old Chinese woman, Ye Shiwen, smashed the world record.
Swanson is appearing Wednesday (from 12:30-1:30 p.m. London time) on CCTV to talk about basketball and compare this year’s “Dream Team” with the one he witnessed in Barcelona when he worked those Olympics for NBC, as well as comparing the 2012 U.S. basketball team to the team that competed four years ago in Beijing.
“Because of my work with NBC and covering the original Dream Team in Barcelona in 1992, CCTV wants a comparison of this year’s team vs. the Beijing Olympics teams vs. Barcelona — all three Olympics I’ve covered,” Swanson said.
Swanson said he met the mayor of London at the Oxford Studios where he was on the talkshow “Dialogue.” He said he hopes to meet some of the athletes when he is at the Olympic Park studios for his program Wednesday.
“I am working at two studios here in different parts of London and don’t have access to the athletes at venues here as I did in Barcelona,” he noted.
CCTV is available in London on cable channel 20. It’s also available throughout China and on all the continents. It’s an international English-speaking channel of the Chinese Central Government — one of more than 26 channels which the government operates and controls.
“Unfortunately, Paxton has no chance (to see me on air), unless possibly through a subscription service in Champaign-Urbana or on Dish-TV,” he said. “It’s up to the cable providers throughout the world to schedule a Chinese channel if the audience dictates. If you’re in L.A., New York or Chicago, for example, you’d see me. That’s because there is a larger population of Chinese living there. Also, major cities in Canada have large Chines populations.”
Swanson grew up east of Paxton on a farm and graduated from Paxton High School in 1970. His parents were Vernon and Betty Swanson. He still has a cousin, Ronald Rasmus, living in Paxton.
Swanson is married to a Chinese woman, XinXin (English name Nicole). She and their children are waiting for him in central China and will return to Colorado with him on Aug. 14.
Swanson, 60, is a professor of broadcast journalism and an endowed chair at the University of Northern Colorado.