What a difference a week makes. Last week the Olympics Green was virtually empty, an Olympic-sized ghost town. There were only a handful of people who were strolling the main square, as volunteers far outnumbered fans.
But the Olympic Green was bustling on Saturday afternoon, the day before the Closing Ceremony. Fans lined up for exhibits from sponsors like Coca-Cola and Samsung. A crowd gathered to watch as a samba band performed on one of the stages. Spectators lounged on the grass in front of one of the projection screens broadcasting one of the events. There was even an impromptu parade that snaked through the center of the main square.
Finally, the Olympic Green was alive.
But for some, especially fans who had gone to Sydney in 2000 or Athens in 2004, it was too little, too late.
Most fans who were asked about their Olympic experience on Saturday applauded the venues, transportation and security. Indeed, officials have done a superb job running the Games. The efficient subway station shuttles fans to nearly every point of the city. The venues have been top-notch; the Bird's Nest and the Watercube will be the iconic buildings of the Games. And all said they have felt very safe in Beijing (some did say that the security procedures — bags are scanned and each person is combed over by a hand wand — before entering the Green or each venue were off-putting).
The Olympics, especially the Green, lacked sizzle and spontaneity.
"It's just a bit sterile," Tim Brown of London as he was walking north on the Green. "It's almost been undone by it's own size. I think that's been the biggest frustration. The sports have been fantastic, the organization has been fantastic. But it's just missing that final ingredient, which I call fun."
This was the second Olympics for Brown, who also went to Athens. He also said he's attended multiple World Cups and Euro Championships, two major events known for its party atmosphere and camaraderie.
"The scale compared to Athens is just totally different. Athens was more spontaneous. There were more smiles on the faces of the people arranging it ... it wasn't so nearly, well, fun. It's too big. It takes you an hour to cross this park.
Australian Elisha Mullins, who was in Sydney and Athens, echoed Brown's opinion.
"My personal opinion is that the vibe hasn't been quite the same as other Olympics. There are no common areas for people to watch screens. It's really hard to find out what's happening with your own country. (And) the simple things that they've overlooked."
Like the food. The culinary choices — or lack thereof — have been a major point of consternation for fans. Concession stands at venues and in the Green sell a steaming box of rice and chicken as the main dish. You could also eat a sausage on a stick. That's it. The only restaurant in the square is McDonald's. There are no cafes or bars for fans to sit, relax and drink after an event or while they wait for another one.
"The food is ridiculous," Mullins said. "The lack of quality. The lack of quantity. It's been appalling."
But for all the quibbles and gripes, Brown and Mullins still described their Olympic experience as "amazing" and "fantastic." They wouldn't go as far as calling it the best Olympics ever, something former IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch would declare after each Closing Ceremony (current president Jacques Rogges has decided not to follow Samaranch's tradition). He caused a stir when he didn't call the 1996 Games in Atlanta the best ever, instead saying they were "most exceptional."
For three brothers from London, Jeff, Paul and Adrian Manson — the Manson family, if you will — there was nothing but superlatives and compliments. There were sitting on a ledge enjoying ice cream under one of the few trees providing shade.
"It's been brilliant," Jeff said as his two brothers nodded.
"This will be the best Olympics ever."