Left Fireworks illuminate the sky and form the word “Spring” over the National Stadium, known as the Bird’s Nest, during the opening ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing on Friday night. (AFP photo)
Beijing: The 2022 Winter Olympics officially started off Friday night as China attempts to turn the page on a troubled build-up overshadowed by human rights concerns and Covid.
The lattice-shaped National Stadium or “Bird’s Nest” took centre stage, just as it did at the 2008 Games — seen as China’s coming-out party on the world stage — as Beijing becomes the first city to host both a Summer and Winter Olympics.
The opening ceremony was attended by President Xi Jinping, under whose rule China has adopted a more muscular attitude internationally compared to 14 years ago.
Xi was joined by more than 20 world leaders including Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, the two presidents having met earlier in the day.
A show during the opening ceremony. (Photo: Reuters)
China and Russia have both seen ties with Washington deteriorate markedly, and with tensions rising in Europe over Russia’s troop build-up on the Ukrainian border, Putin hailed the “truly unprecedented nature” of relations with his hosts.
The United States, Britain, Canada and Australia are among countries staging a diplomatic boycott of the Games over China’s rights record, particularly the fate of the Muslim Uyghur minority in Xinjiang.
Their athletes will still compete at the Games, which run until Feb 20 and are taking place inside a vast “closed loop” designed to thwart the virus.
Some spectators were present at the opening ceremony at the 90,000-capacity Bird’s Nest. The show was the mastermind of acclaimed Chinese film director Zhang Yimou, who was also behind the 2008 extravaganza.
China has pursued a no-nonsense zero-Covid policy nationwide and has adopted the same approach to the Games, with everyone inside the bubble tested daily and required to wear a mask at all times.
Away from the ceremony, the figure skating began with strongly fancied American Nathan Chen firing a warning to Japanese reigning champion Yuzuru Hanyu by producing a personal best score in the men’s single short programme of the team competition.
The two will vie for gold in the eagerly awaited men’s single event beginning on Tuesday.
Four Thai athletes, Italy-based Mark Chanloung, Karen Chanloung, Nicola Zanon and Swiss-Thai Mida Fah Jaiman, who all are skiers, will take part in Beijing 2022.
Siblings Mark and Karen will compete in cross country, and Nicola and Mida in Alpine skiing. Mark, Karen and Nicola took part in the 2018 Winter Games while Mida will make her Olympic debut. afp/bangkok post