Life changes can happen in an instant. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Beijing Olympics, where the amazing record-breaking achievements of world-class athletes like American swimmer Michael Phelps, with seven gold medals and counting, are attained with only fractions of a second to spare. For instance, Phelps roared back from seventh place at the 50-meter mark to out-touch Serb Milorad Cavic by one-one hundredths of a second to win his seventh gold medal, tying Mark Spitz’s record haul from the 1972 Munich Games.
But misfortune also takes mere seconds to unfold. Behind the glitter and hoopla of the “greatest show on earth”, are tragedies which occur without warning, changing people’s lives forever. American tourist Todd Bachman, father of former UCLA All-American and 2004 volleyball Olympian Elisabeth “Wiz” Bachman McCutcheon, was killed while sightseeing in Beijing by a 47-year-old, knife-wielding Chinese assailant, who later committed suicide by leaping 130 feet from a balcony on the 13th-century Drum Tower, located 5 miles from the Olympic Games site. His wife was gravely injured, although Elisabeth was unharmed.
Surely one of the more poignant tales behind the Olympics is that of Chinese dancer Liu Yan, who was seriously injured during a rehearsal for the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympic games just days before the show, and faces the prospect of being paralyzed for the rest of her life. Considered one of the country’s top classical Chinese dancers, Liu Yan, a graduate of the prestigious Beijing Dance Academy, was preparing for the performance of a lifetime: the only solo dance in a four-hour spectacular that was expected to be seen by a global audience of more than one billion people. During a rehearsal, she leaped toward a moving platform that malfunctioned and plunged about 10 feet into a shaft, landing on her back and breaking her spine.
According to the New York Times, her head was not badly injured, and she can move her arms. But she has no feeling below her chest, she said in a hospital bed interview. She cannot move her lower body, including her legs. Doctors have told her family it is unlikely she will ever walk again. During an interview in her hospital room, Liu was teary-eyed and said she was in disbelief about the accident.“I never imagined I could suffer such a tragedy,” she said. For a professional dancer, this seems a particularly cruel fate.
Organizers of the opening ceremony initially asked witnesses and friends not to disclose the accident ahead of the Olympic Games opening on August 8. Chinese authorities also sought to downplay the incident. For the most part, the state-run news media have not reported the accident, although the People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s official organ, mentioned it in a small article. Initial reports said Liu had missed a step and was slightly injured, and afterward all news of the accident disappeared.
Persistent inquries from Western media outfits, as well as stories circulating in the internet, forced the Olympic organizers to later admit to the incident. Now the Chinese media is full of weepy reports of bedside visits by Chinese officials, who now hail her as a heroine.
Buddhist teachings talk about “little deaths”, suggesting that every experience of change that we have is but a facet of the greatest of all transformative experiences – death. Even in the Beijing Olympics, death and grievous loss have managed to play a role, as backdrops for triumphs of the human spirit.
You Tube snippets of dances performed by Liu Yan.