"Give peace a chance": Beijing Winter Olympics open with glitzy ceremony
Beijing, China - The Beijing Winter Olympics were opened on Friday by Chinese President Xi Jinping in a ceremony featuring spectacular visual effects and a plea from International Olympic Committee (IOC) chief Thomas Bach to "give peace a chance."
Xi, who along with Bach and everyone else was wearing a face mask owing to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, kicked off the Games before two young Chinese athletes, cross-country skier Dinigeer Yilamujiang and Nordic combined skier Zhao Jiawen, lit the snow-flaked formed Olympic cauldron at National Stadium.
Some 2,900 athletes from 91 countries will compete until February 20 for 109 gold medals in seven sports and 15 disciplines amid a strict health protocol and against the backdrop of political tensions directed at China but also concerning Russia and the Ukraine crisis.
Several mainly western nations led by the US are not sending government officials in protest of China's human rights record in connection with threats towards Taiwan, the suppression of the democracy movement in Hong Kong and the treatment of ethnic minorities such as the Uighur people.
"In the Olympic spirit of peace, I appeal to all political authorities around the globe" to "give peace a chance" by observing the Olympic Truce, Bach said in his speech.
"In our fragile world, where division, conflict and mistrust are on the rise, we show the world: yes, it is possible to be fierce rivals while at the same time living peacefully and respectfully together," he said, insisting: "There will be no discrimination for any reason whatsoever."
Looking at the ongoing pandemic, he added: "Thank you for making these Olympic Winter Games happen. And making them happen in a safe way." He added that "our heart goes out to the athletes" who are missing the Games owing to the virus.
Russian team cheered, US gets muted reception
Organizing committee chief Cai Qi pledged "simple, safe and great Games."
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who earlier Friday held talks with Xi about the Ukraine crises, and United Nations secretary general António Guterres, were among dignitaries present as Beijing became the first city to stage Summer and Winter Olympics.
The same arena held the lavish opening of the Beijing 2008 Summer Games but Friday's event had a very different feeling.
The director was the same in Zhang Yimou but this time the 110-minute ceremony featured no stars, professional singers or dancers – and rather 3,000 university and school students as well as ordinary citizens.
Themed "One World, One Country," it impressed with extraordinary visual effects to showcase China, the solar terms of its lunar calendar, ice and snow, as well as paying tribute to previous Olympic Winter Games hosts.
The main stage was an LED screen of over 12,000 square feet, which together with lasers and fireworks provided the visual effects for the half-full attendance and millions more via TV around the world.
As the Olympic teams came out led by their flag bearers, one of the biggest cheers apart from that for the hosts was for the Russians, who are again competing without national symbols owing to doping related sanctions. The US team, with Elena Meyers Taylor (bobsleigh) and John Shuster (curling) out in front, got muted receptions.
Cover photo: IMAGO / Xinhua