A Winter Olympics overshadowed by human rights concerns and taking place inside a strict Covid-secure bubble kicked off in Beijing on Friday with a glittering opening ceremony at the “Bird’s Nest” stadium.
The distinctive lattice-shaped arena took centre stage, just as it did at the 2008 Games – seen as China’s coming-out party to the world – as Beijing becomes the first city to host both a Summer and Winter Olympics.
Chinese President Xi Jinping declared the Games open, triggering a burst of fireworks and wrapping up a ceremony filled with imagery of ice and snow. Xi’s declaration was followed by red-suited “skaters” sliding across virtual ice.
Held on the first day of Spring by the Chinese calendar,the ceremony began with a performance by dancers waving glowing green stalks to convey the vitality of the season, followed by an explosion of white and green fireworks that spelled the word “Spring”.
On a three-dimensional cube resembling a block of ice, lasers carved figures from each of the previous 23 Winter Games. The block was then “broken” by ice hockey players, enabling the Olympic rings to emerge, all in white.
That was followed by the traditional “parade of nations”, with each of the 91 delegations preceded by a women carrying a placard in the shape of a snowflake resembling a Chinese knot.
In keeping with Olympic tradition, the parade was led into the stadium by Greece with the rest ordered by stroke number in the first character of their Chinese name, which meant Turkey was second, followed by Malta, with host China going last and drawing roars from the stadium crowd.
The entrances for “Hong Kong, China”, as well as for Russia, also generated applause.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, the highest profile foreign leader present for the Games, could be seen in the stadium without a mask. However, the athletes from his country were unable to carry its flag due to doping violations, marching instead under the standard of the Russian Olympic Committee.