President Xi declares Winter Olympic Games open

President Xi Jinping on Friday night declared the 24th Olympic Winter Games open at the National Stadium in Beijing.

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach also spoke at the opening ceremony, thanking those around the globe who he said have gone “beyond the call of duty” to make the events happen as a global pandemic continues raging.

Bach talked about how the Olympics highlight “ambition, courage and strength” and likened those qualities to what China has done to grow Olympic winter sports to its residents.

Bach’s remarks immediately preceded the games being officially opened by Xi, his words prompting the setting off of fireworks that lit up the sky over the Bird's Nest.

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 imagery 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.

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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.

The entrances for China, Hong Kong and Russia generated applause in the partially filled stadium.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, the highest profile foreign leader present for the Games, could be seen in the stadium.

Friday's ceremony began shortly after Xi and International Olympic Committee Chairman Thomas Bach entered the iconic Bird's Nest stadium.

Soon after the start, the Chinese flag was passed among 56 people representing China's different ethnic groups before it was raised and the national anthem performed.

Directed by Zhang Yimou, reprising his role from Beijing's 2008 Summer Games triumph, the event featured 3,000 performers on a stage comprised of 11,600 square metres of high-definition LED screen resembling an ice surface.

All of the performers were ordinary people from Beijing and nearby Hebei province, with "the Story of a Snowflake" its central thread. (Additional reporting by Reuters)

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