BEIJING.-The Beijing Olympic Games got underway with a dazzling opening ceremony planned by China's most successful film director, Zhang Yimou. It included a display of fireworks, acrobatics and music. The event started at 8.08 p.m. on August 8, or 8/08/08 in the Bird's Nest, China's national stadium. An army of 2,008 drummers pounded out the countdown to the Games. Thirty-five thousand fireworks lit up the sky above 10,000 dancers and performers in the stunning stadium. Twenty-nine colossal "footprints of fire" shot into the sky and "marched" through the city to Tiananmen Square in a dazzling, rolling display of pyrotechnics. The large cast sang the words of a famous Confucian greeting: "Friends have come from afar, how happy we are."
There were eighty world leaders, among them US President George W Bush and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. Around one billion people were expected to watch the ceremony on television. The show was a celebration of ancient Chinese history. Performers wore lavish costumes from different imperial dynasties.
The 204 national teams paraded in a sequence based on the number of strokes it takes to write their names in Chinese, not in the traditional alphabetical order. The games officially started when former Chinese gymnast Li Ning used the Olympic torch to light the Olympic flame.
Chinese President Hu Jintao said: The Beijing Olympic Games is an opportunity not only for China but also for the whole world. We should carry forward the Olympic spirit of solidarity, friendship and peace, facilitate sincere exchanges among people from all countries, deepen mutual understanding, enhance friendship and rise above differences, and promote the building of a harmonious world featuring lasting peace and common prosperity."
The time of the ceremony was selected based on the number eight, a lucky number in China. The time was 8.08pm on the eighth day of the eighth month of the eighth year.
Jacques Rogge, President, International Olympic Committee, said: That was spectacular. Tonight, the world was able to join in a magnificent tribute to the athletes and the Olympic spirit. It was an unforgettable and moving ceremony that celebrated the imagination, originality and energy of the Beijing Games.
We saw 204 national delegations march into the beautiful new National Stadium in the age-old tradition of the Games. Millions of people around the world were able to experience the thrill of seeing their heroes in a sea of team colours and national flags.
We witnessed athletes from these 204 countries and territories united in peace in one place. And for the next 16 days, they will be a part of one of the most thrilling competitions in history. As an Olympian, I can tell you that they will carry this memory with them forever.
This iconic stadium is one of the worlds new wonders. It was a fitting setting for an amazing Opening Ceremony, I look forward to an equally exciting and unforgettable 16 days.
Hein Verbruggen, IOC Member and Chairman of the Coordination Commission for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad, said: Opening ceremonies have always been a way for host cities to welcome the world and for the world to gather and share the Olympic spirit. This ceremony to open the Beijing Olympic Games was a breathtaking culmination of seven years of planning and preparation. The world will remember this for a long time.
Tonight wasnt the end of a journey, but the fantastic beginning of 16 days of outstanding sport competition. This was a night to remember for the Chinese people, and for the world.
As I watched the rehearsals for this ceremony, I knew this night would be absolutely astonishing. However, the actual event exceeded all my expectations. This was an unprecedented and grand success.