BEIJING (AP) — Chinese athletes Zhao Jiawen and Dinigeer Yilamujiang stepped into the center of a newly formed snowflake and slid the Olympic torch into place — transforming the intricate crystal into a most unique cauldron.
Lights. Cheers. Fireworks.
And now, the Winter Games.
Beijing opened its second Olympics in 14 years at the lattice-encased National Stadium on Friday, bringing an official start to the two-week sporting competition held despite challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic and a diplomatic boycott from several governments over the way China treats millions of its own people.
Chinese President Xi Jinping declared the Games open before a limited crowd that included Russian President Vladimir Putin, who met privately with Xi earlier in the day as a dangerous standoff unfolds at Russia’s border with Ukraine.
Aided by a dazzling series of digital displays on a massive HD LED floor, hundreds of Chinese students and ordinary citizens ushered in the Olympics with an homage to winter heavy on references to local folklore. Children raised lighted doves toward the sky and performed songs wearing traditional tiger-head shoes just days after ringing in the Year of the Tiger.
Older performers helped reveal the Olympic motto: Faster, higher, stronger — together.
The athletes were led into the arena by placard carriers in tiger-head hats. Each placard was designed to look like a glowing snowflake, and after the Parade of Nations, they were connected together into a larger flake that formed the Olympic cauldron.
The honor of lighting that cauldron went to Zhao and Yilamujiang. The latter was born in Xinjiang, the western China region where human rights groups say China oppresses many in the ethnic Uyghur population.
The third major fireworks show of the night followed, a blindingly bright spectacle floating above the stadium known as the Bird’s Nest, signalling to the city and the world that these Games have begun.
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