"It's not about last year or who's here or who's isn't here," says your head coach. "It's about getting out here and competing and seeing who is here, and that's where we're gonna go."
EDIT: Pictures should be fixed... sorry for that.
So on September 4th while Michigan was breaking in its brand new digs in Ann Arbor and breaking the record for largest audience to ever watch a football game in America at 113,090, I was halfway across the world making my visit to one of the two (non-racing) stadiums that can claim a bigger capacity than The Big House in Ann Arbor - Rungrado May Day Stadium in Pyongyang, North Korea. With a seating capacity of 150,000 it is the largest stadium in the world. You may have heard Sean McDonough mention it during the beginning of the game as he noted the two stadiums larger than Michigan Stadium.
The stadium, located in the heart of the North Korean capital, dwarfs any stadium I have ever seen (and I consider myself pretty well sports-traveled). The thing was massive.
Myself outside of May Day Stadium w/ my Michigan Season T-Shirt
May Day Stadium from the top of Juche Tower
The stadium is primarily used for the Arirang Mass Games, which take place three times per week from the Months of August to October (usually...). The mass games are one of the largest gymnastics displays in the world, which also feature a human-mosaic backdrop made up of 30,000 students, which essentially becomes the world's largest LED screen - sure to make Jerry Jones envious. If you managed to catch the opening ceremony for the Beijing Olympics in 2008, imagine that but about 100 times grander and more awe-inspiring.
The 'gymnastics' display is much less about the actual sport and more of a narrative opus which tells the story of the Founding of the DPRK (North Korea) and highlights certain Korean cultural aspects as well. It was, easily, the most amazing thing I have ever witnessed in person (and I was at the Big House for UM-MSU in 2004, and at the Capital One Bowl in 2008 to put things in perspective...). Over 100,000 people participated in the display, and just the sheer numbers alone were breathtaking. Not to mention the synchronization and transitions were absolutely flawless. I normally could care less for gymnastics, but this was stunning and unlike anything I had ever experienced before. I was sitting on the edge of my seat the entire performance and did not want it to end. Here are a few more highlight pictures from the event -
Opening act of the Mass Games... the mosaic with the Korean text is made up of 30,000 students holding books with pages of different colors that they change on order from a flag captain. I don't know how they managed to synchronize everything so perfectly. It makes the block M in the student section during a Maize-out look like child's play....
The students were also able to animate the mosaic, as the Korean script was "written" across the mosaic. It was crazy.
Mosaic of Kim Il Sung, North Korea's 'Fatherly Leader'. Even though he died in 1994, he is still the President of North Korea
Although the mosaic was the coolest part of the performance in my opnion, some of the gymnastics displays were superb. My favorite was this Tae Kwon Do, which culminated in two fighters taking on over 80 'bad guys'. It was epic.
The performance lasted around 1.5 hours but I did not want it to end. While stepping into the Big House on football saturdays is still one of the most humbling experiences for me. May Day Stadium took the cake. It's size was unlike anything I have ever seen. Another American who was on the tour with me (and also a die-hard Purdue fan) joked that we should talk to our respective schools about staging a football game over here in the future.
Outside of the mass games, North Korea was one of the most fascinating countries i have ever been too. It really was like traveling to another planet. If you are interested in Korea or enjoy traveling to unique locations, I would highly recommend a trip to the DPRK. It is not cheap by any means, but it is the experience of a life time and is completely safe.