Mexican Wave 101: ‘La Ola’ Becomes a Study Subject in China for the Beijing Olympics

'The Great Wave off Kanagawa' (Kanagawa oki nami ura), the famous woodblock printing by the Japanese artist Hokusai.

Its exact origins are disputed, and some say its growth may be traced to 4 different sports, across 4 different North American countries. Some say that it was created (by chance) at a NHL game in Canada in 1980 by Jeremy Fehst, then introduced to a wider audience (intentionally) in October 1981 at a MLB game in Oakland, California and/or at an NFL game in Seattle, Washington. Whatever its origin, the Mexican wave (or audience wave, or “La Ola”, as it is commonly referred in European countries) gained world wide notice (and acquired its specific name) during the FIFA Football World Cup in Mexico in 1986.

At the time, ‘la ola’ was one of the hallmarks of stadium audience spontaneity, and witnessing the rise of this ‘human tide’, rise from one stadium end to the other, has always been a spectacle of enormous magnitude. Even though the wave isn’t as widespread as it once was, it always provides great entertainment, from its stadium performers to the its spectactors, even those comfortably sitting on their couch at home. A form of entertainment which, in light of the upcoming Beijing 2008 Olympics, has now evolved into a study subject.

Beijing 2008 Olympics logoIndeed, the latest trend in the ‘Audience Cheering 101′ course comes straight from the Chinese capital, where a select group of people has been studying the theories & techniques of how to perform the Mexican wave. 300 ‘students’ have been instructed to learn the intricate details, discover the hidden secrets, and become fully licensed masters in this particular stadium cheer. A study whose ultimate purpose (would you have doubted it?) is a noble one: to transform a sports event into a collective feast for the eyes.

It isn’t the first time that on the onset of an important sporting event, ‘higher authorities’ have commissioned such a study. Two years ago, the radio-television group Deutsche Welle had launched a pro-Mexican wave campaign to promote ‘la ola’ inside the stadiums of the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Deutsche WelleIncidentally, that was a great way for the German broadcaster to do some self-promotion as well: in the language of Goethe, Deutsche Welle litterally means ‘German wave’.

Now, some will claim that all this studying (and dissecting into minutial details) will deprive ‘the wave’ it of its spontaneity, that somehow it will turn into a ‘robotic’ performance. By taking a look at some of the ‘trade secrets’ which have been uncovered during the study (and are now taught to its students), it becomes obvious how one might be lead to that conclusion. For instance: “the wave must proceed at a velocity no greater than 40 Km/hour“, or “there must be a series of 11 ‘rhythmical claps’ before the wave can take off”. So much for spontaneity indeed…

Whatever the final result may be, the 300 Chinamen who have participated in the study have, according to the latest reports, already learned 4 different ways to perform the wave. So, if you’re going to be around Beijing this summer (the Olympic games begin August 8), keep an eye out for anyone wearing a red overcoat and a whistle inside the Chinese stadiums: the ‘cheering scientists’ have just been donned with their official uniform.  And don’t forget to visit Beijing’s very own ‘Mexican Wave’ restaurant. :)

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Posted in World News |

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  • 3 Responses to “Mexican Wave 101: ‘La Ola’ Becomes a Study Subject in China for the Beijing Olympics”

    1. David Keyes says:

      Just FYI, that picture at the top is by Hokusai, a famous Japanese painter, although his style was influenced by the Chinese.

    2. I know David, if you hover your mouse over the image you’ll see that’s exactly what the caption says. :) I thought it was a fitting image for the article.

    3. [...] The Wave 101: Beijing Studying ‘La Ola’ [...]