Said a Chinese official to NBC News summarizing the risks that went in to Friday's high-stakes Olympics Opening Ceremony. They paid off in spectacular fashion, but think about the risks.
The "space walk" Li Ning did for 800 yards around the stadium before he lighted the cauldron - you say what's the big deal till you realize it 225 feet above ground and he was scaling the ceiling wall. There was apparently no contingency plan if winds picked up the flame from the giant cauldron. All the new technology - the giant 400 foot scroll screen at the floor of the stadium to costumes with thousands of LED beads ((see my post on the technology at New Florence). The repeated and spectacular fireworks during the course of the evening - and coordinating them not at the Bird's Nest but across the city of Beijing. The smog which enveloped the city - the fireworks had to be a special smokeless kind to not exacerbate it. Managing a $ 300 million budget for the ceremony. Coordinating a total 14,000 performers. The color of some of the costumes was changed at the last minute - try doing that for 2,000+ performers. The intensity of the synchronized sound and lights of some of the performances - the performers were told to smile often to break the tension.
Security detail for the Heads of State - I did not see any Secret Service anywhere near President Bush. The political risk of allowing Zhang Yimou to direct the ceremony - his previous work has repeatedly been banned in China. Not giving its military too prominent a role in the ceremony. Giving its children, in contrast, a much bigger role given the criticism of its "one child" policy. Balancing the celebration of bravery during the recent earthquake with the sensitivity to the pain it has brought to thousands of Chinese families. The risk of how the crowd would react to different countries with which China has had historical tensions - Japan, Taiwan, Russia. The reaction to Lopez Lomong, the US contingent flag bearer - originally from Sudan and now an activist for Darfur which China has been criticized for meddling in. The risk of more protests - about Tibet and its human rights record - which marred the global journey of the Olympics torch.
Of course, all this will pale compared to the risks - and national pride - when China does attempt its manned moonshot in the 2020s. In the meantime, it can savor the huge success of the opening ceremony and sweat a few more details to keep the next 2 weeks of the games moving just as smoothly.