Paris, France: Beefy balancing acts in Tokyo, extraterrestrial tech hunters in the US, and bubbles offering Poles a breath of fresh air in polluted Warsaw… Your weekly roundup of offbeat stories from around the world.
So the Games begin — but for one of South Korea’s largest television networks, it wasn’t the most gracious of starts.
Covering the downsized opening ceremony attended by a few dozen masked athletes and delegations, broadcaster MBC jazzed things up for viewers at home with captions and illustrative images for each nation.
But while pizzas flashed up for Italy and salmon for Norway, when the Ukraine delegation proudly came out MBC showed images of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
As for Haiti: a picture of a riot. El Salvador, intriguingly, was identified by a promotional bitcoin poster.
In the captions, the network described the Marshall Islands as “a former nuclear test site for the United States” and Haiti as a country “with an unstable political situation due to the assassination of its president”.
Not exactly whipping up the Olympic spirit.
“They used whatever popped up first on Google,” said one user online after the images and captions triggered outrage.
“This is a serious diplomatic discourtesy,” another added.
MBC issued an apology afterward for some “inappropriate” choices.
The truth is out there
A boost this week to alien hunting with an announcement from the Galileo Project, an international team of scientists led by a top Harvard astronomer.
They unveiled their new initiative to search for evidence of technology built by extraterrestrial civilizations, which has so far received $1.75 million from private donors.
It comes a month after a tantalizing report released by the Pentagon about unidentified aerial phenomena, which stated that their nature was unclear.
“We can no longer ignore the possibility that technological civilizations predated us,” Harvard astronomer Professor Avi Loeb said.
The new project is named after Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei, who was punished when he provided key evidence for the Earth not being at the center of the universe.
In this spirit, the team says it envisages the creation of a global network of medium-sized telescopes, cameras, and computers to investigate unidentified flying objects.
No rookie project, those close encounters of the third kind may be getting closer, as Loeb says he hopes to increase the funding tenfold.
He may look like an unidentified object when he does his signature act, but the flamboyant Li Fabin is China’s gold-winning Olympic weightlifter, who pulled off his famous flourish again this week.
Known as the “flamingo lift” Li somehow manages to regain his balance by standing on one leg while holding a massive weight above his head.
“It’s a lift I wouldn’t suggest anyone else should learn,” said Li.
Chances are they won’t.
Li first stunned the weightlifting world by doing the flamingo lift at the 2017 Asian Championships but said because of injury he hasn’t been able to perform it much since.
“Standing on one leg is not a regular balance move. I can only do it because I have great core and abdomen muscle strength.”
More excitement in Tokyo came with the announcement that medal winners on the podium would be granted a special treat — 30 seconds mask-free for photos.
Well, this is the pandemic Game.
On the podium, athletes are now shown a sign telling them to remove their masks briefly for the photographers.
But organizers insist on the 30 seconds. Proudest moment of the athletes’ lives or not, this is no carte blanche for grinning too long at the cameras.
Although nowhere near a podium, Australian coach Dean Boxall whipped his mask off anyway as Ariarne Titmus caused a sensation by nabbing gold from US star Katie Ledecky in the pool.
The spectacular race was one of the high points in the Games so far, with five-time gold medallist Ledecky never having lost an Olympic final missing this one by a whisker.
But Boxall’s spectacular celebration was almost as memorable.
As Titmus touched the wall ahead of her fierce rival, Boxall turned feral, much to the delight of thousands on social media.
The roaring Boxall kicked the air and hammered his fists before finally ripping off his mask and thrusting against the barrier in front of him.
At one point a Japanese girl working as a volunteer appeared to make an attempt to restrain Boxall, but he remained undeterred.
Exit Tokyo and into Warsaw’s new air bubble.
The Polish city is one of the most polluted capitals in the EU but now its citizens have a playground that has been turned into a small bubble of clean oxygen.
Tubes full of algae in water have been installed inside what is dubbed the AirBubble, consuming polluting molecules and carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen back out.
“This is fun,” shouted one child on a recent afternoon at the AirBubble, filling her lungs with the good stuff.
She can breathe easy until November when the project by urban design firm ecoLogicStudio is slated to close.