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Performers create a display with LED lights at the Olympic Opening Ceremonies in National Stadium...

Performers create a display with LED lights at the Olympic Opening Ceremonies in National Stadium at the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics on Friday. Photo by Paul Hanna/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 4 (UPI) — Beijing kicked off the Opening Ceremony of its 2022 Winter Games on a frigid Friday night in its iconic “Bird’s Nest” stadium, as an event being held under the cloud of COVID-19 restrictions and human rights concerns gets officially underway.
The ceremony began as Chinese President Xi Jinping and International Olympic President Thomas Bach entered the stadium, bedecked with the flags of 91 participating countries and territories and filled to about 40% of its 91,000 capacity.

After the Chinese flag was raised, the Parade of Nations began, with delegations moving across a surface of high-resolution LED screens showing colorful graphics on an ice-like surface.
As per Olympic tradition Greece, home of the ancient Olympics, was the first delegation to enter, followed by teams in alphabetic order under their Chinese names.

Among the notable early delegations to appear were Taiwan — known officially as Chinese Taipei — which had said it was not going to participate in the Opening Ceremony, but reversed its decision last week, and Hong Kong, the semi-autonomous island that has seen Beijing heavily tighten control over the past two years.

Team USA was the 56th delegation to enter, wearing winter hats, red-white-and-blue outfits and ubiquitous pandemic-era masks and chanting “USA! USA!”
Curler John Shuster, who won a gold medal in 2018, and speed skater Brittany Bowe, a 2018 Olympic bronze medalist, were the flag bearers.

Bobsledder Elana Meyers Taylor, a three-time Olympic medalist, was originally chosen by teammates as a flag bearer but is in isolation after testing positive for COVID-19.
Bowe told NBC announcers Mike Tirico and Savannah Guthrie that it was “an honor of a lifetime” to represent Team USA’s 224 Olympians in the ceremony.
“I can’t think of a more powerful and uniting moment as an athlete and an American,” she said.

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Russian athletes, competing for the second consecutive Olympics under a neutral banner as the Russian Olympic Committee, were greeted with a wave by President Vladimir Putin, who held a summit with Xi Jinping earlier on Friday.
Russia remains banned from the Games due to a doping scandal, but athletes able to prove that they are “clean” are permitted to participate.
As the host nation, China’s delegation entered last, to the loudest cheers of the evening. Beijing is making history as the first city to hold both the Winter and Summer Olympics.

The ceremony is being held at Beijing National Stadium, the famous “Bird’s Nest” that was introduced to the world at the 2008 Summer Games during a stunning four-hour opening spectacle that served to announce China’s emergence as a global superpower.
Friday’s Opening Ceremony is a far more subdued affair, set to clock in at around 100 minutes and featuring 3,000 performers — just a fifth of 2008’s cast of 15,000.
Famed Chinese director Zhang Yimou will be at the helm again but has said he is not trying to reproduce his 2008 accomplishment, an unforgettable extravaganza that showcased thousands of years of China’s history and highlighted inventions such as printing, gunpowder, ceramics and the compass.
“Of course, we know that we cannot repeat Beijing 2008, so we are striving to be different from it,” he told Chinese news agency Xinhua.
“In 2008, the Olympics was a brilliant stage and chance for our country to show ourselves,” Zhang said. “It’s different now. China’s status in the world, the image of the Chinese, and the rise of our national status, everything is totally different now.”
Like the Tokyo Summer Games, which were held just six months ago after a year’s delay, the Opening Ceremony is taking place under strict COVID-19 protocols. Beijing did not sell tickets to the general public, but a limited number of invited spectators are on hand.

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China is enforcing a “zero COVID” policy through the Olympics, with all athletes and participants subject to daily testing and kept in an entirely self-contained “closed loop” system for the duration of the Games.
Zhang has said that the Opening Ceremony will reflect the pandemic and will offer the world a “new and strengthened vision” in which “people of the world come together to face difficulties and look forward to a bright future.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping said Thursday that Beijing was ready to deliver “a streamlined, safe and splendid Games.”
Xi is joined at the Opening Ceremony by heads of state, including Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Pakistan’s Imran Khan and dignitaries such as United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu.
Perhaps more notable are those who are absent from the Games, however. The United States and several countries, including Britain, Japan, Australia and Canada, did not send official delegations as part of a diplomatic boycott over China’s human rights violations — in particular, its treatment of the predominantly Muslim Uighur population in Xinjiang Province.
Washington has accused Beijing of perpetrating “genocide and crimes against humanity” in Xinjiang. China and the International Olympics Committee have repeatedly denounced what they call the “politicization” of the Games.

American athletes will be fully represented, with Team USA sending a roster of more than 200 Olympians. Bobsledder Elana Meyers Taylor, a three-time Olympic medalist, and curler John Shuster, who won a gold in 2018, were chosen by their teammates as flag bearers. However, Meyers Taylor is in isolation after testing positive for COVID-19 and will be replaced by speed skater Brittany Bowe, a 2018 Olympic bronze medalist.
Of special interest will be the lighting of the Olympic cauldron, always a highlight of any Opening Ceremony. Zhang Yimou’s 2008 ceremony featured a stunning image of gymnast Li Ning suspended by wires and appearing to run horizontally around the rim of the stadium before setting off a wall of flame up the cauldron.
Zhang said that his team has come up with “a bold idea for the lighting and the design of the main cauldron” that would reflect issues of environmental protection.
“This time the way of lighting will certainly be different,” he said. “It’s a major reform of this opening ceremony. It will be unprecedented in the over 100-year history of the Olympic Games.”

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