- 08 Aug 2008
- Beijing 2008
When Beijing was awarded the Olympic Games back in 2001, the expectation ahead of the opening ceremony began almost immediately. Here was the chance for the emerging superpower to flex its economic and organisational might before a global audience in excess of three billion.
As the mesmerising Bird’s Nest stadium, itself an abiding symbol of China’s progress and standing on the world stage, turned from a building site to a thing of incredible elegance and beauty, the anticipation was heightened even more.
The Chinese like their luck, and in particular believe in the superstitious value of the number eight. So the decision to start the spellbinding extravaganza at 8pm on the eighth day of the eighth month of 2008 indicated that the organisers really were leaving nothing to chance.
It was a sultry afternoon as the crowd of thousands were marshalled into their seats, several hours before the scheduled start to ensure no last-minute security hitches.
A succession of dancers in native costume served as the warm-up act, the helicopters whirring overhead only adding to the impending sense of excitement as an expectant crowd and a massive global audience prepared to be dazzled.
The lights dimmed and 2008 Fou drummers lined up on the stadium floor, their LED-lit sticks and drums illuminating with each choreographed strike to lead the crowd into a deafening countdown.
Giant TV screens showed images of huge golden footprints marching over the Beijing skyline and a flag was unfurled by eight men from the People’s Liberation Army.
So much of the next four hours would attain iconic status; the elegant scrolls on the stadium floor symbolising the country’s invention of early printing techniques, the huge golden sphere upon which gravity-defying dancers elegantly performed, and the delicate birds descending from the heights to mimic the beauty of the stadium itself.
There then followed the parade of the competing nations; a joyous release from the tension of the ceremony and the chance to see a Who’s Who of competitors leading their countries.
Tennis great Roger Federer led the Swiss contingent, Manu Ginobili the Argentinians, the non-participant Manny Pacquiao for the Phillipines and - met by the biggest roar of the night - basketball giant Yao Ming he led out the mighty Red-clad army of host-nation athletes.
As with any opening ceremony, the ongoing debate was about who was going to light the torch to mark the start of another sporting extravaganza, but as the crowd craned their necks to see the towering home of the Olympic Flame the question vexing everyone was as much HOW it was going to be lit.
The answer came in breathtaking fashion. After the torch relay entered the stadium and was passed among seven former Chinese greats, the flame was handed to gymnast Li Ning.
With wires attached to his body, Li was raised high into the air and appeared to be run around the edge of the stadium roof, his progress highlighted by a single spotlight, the audience transfixed.
As he made his way around the Bird’s Nest, he suddenly paused and held the torch to a channel which led to the towering cauldron that would be the home of the Olympic flame for the next three weeks.
The channel ignited and after an initial slow, heart-stopping moment the flame suddenly raced up into the heights of the tower and the Games were officially started.
No-one present will ever forget the majesty of the spectacle and the ceremony will provide a benchmark for all ceremonies to come.