WASHINGTON — The Beijing Olympics kicked off Friday with an Opening Ceremony filled with lots of fireworks and plenty of winter imagery. With a 13-hour time difference between the east coast and China, the Opening Ceremony got underway at 7 a.m. Eastern, which was 8 p.m. in Beijing.
For the second Olympics in a row, the Opening Ceremony aired live on TV in the morning in the U.S. and will be shown again in primetime Friday night.
Winter themes and fireworks
Aided by a dazzling series of digital displays on a massive HD LED floor, hundreds of Chinese students and ordinary citizens ushered in the Olympics with an homage to winter heavy on references to local folklore.
Children raised lighted doves toward the sky and performed songs wearing traditional tiger-head shoes just days after ringing in the Year of the Tiger. Older performers helped reveal the Olympic motto: Faster, higher, stronger — together.
Throughout the course of the Opening Ceremony there were three major fireworks displays above the stadium known as the Bird's Nest.
Team USA's big entrance
More than 170 American athletes took part in the Parade of Nations, led by flagbearers John Shuster and Brittany Bowe.
Three-time Olympic medalist Elana Meyers Taylor was originally tapped as one of the two Team USA flagbearers, alongside Shuster, but she was forced to skip the Opening Ceremony after testing positive for COVID shortly after arriving in Beijing.
In a news conference held just hours before the Opening Ceremony, Team USA officials said that nearly 80% of the delegation signed up to attend the ceremony, which could be close to a record. It's not uncommon for athletes to skip because they have competition the next day, are staying far away or compete later in the Olympics and haven't yet arrived.
No Pita, but still another shirtless Olympian
With Tonga's Pita Taufatofua out of the Winter Olympics, American Samoa stepped up to keep the tradition of the "shirtless flagbearer" alive for the fourth Olympics in a row.
Taufatofua first went viral during the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics for being shirtless and oiled up during the Opening Ceremony. The Tongan made consecutive appearances at the 2018 Winter Olympics and at last Summer's Olympics in Tokyo.
Earlier this week, Taufatofua said in an Instagram post he has another "task" that needs his attention, helping his home country of Tonga recover from the recent tsunami.
So with Taufatofua out, most assumed that would be the end of the shirtless flagbearer. But American Samoa skeleton racer Nathan Crumpton had another thing in mind and carried American Samoa's flag with temperatures in China in the teens.
Nod to the Year of the Tiger
The tiger — a symbol of strength and good luck in Chinese folklore — was featured during Friday’s Winter Olympic opening ceremony. The placard bearers for all 91 countries in the Parade of Nations each wore a unique tiger-head hat, and a children’s choir was outfitted in traditional tiger-head shoes made in the northern Hebei province.
An unconventional Olympic cauldron
Snowflake placards used to introduce the athletes during the Parade of Nations connected together to create a massive snowflake that served as the Olympic cauldron.
A group of six Chinese Olympians - each born in different decades starting in the 1950s - brought the flame into the stadium and to its final destination.
Chinese athletes Zhao Jiawen and Dinigeer Yilamujiang delivered the flame to the center of the snowflake. Yilamujiang's involvement in the high-profile moment was especially noteworthy because she is a member of the Uyghur community, according to state media, who was born in the western China region of Xinjiang.
Human rights groups and governments such as the U.S. have condemned the internment and oppression of the Uyghur people in Xinjiang, calling the crackdown a genocide.
Diplomats from the U.S. and several other nations boycotted the games over China's human rights violations, although athletes were not restricted from the games.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.