The 2022 Winter Olympics kicked off in China's capital this week with the opening ceremony on Friday, marking the official start of the Games.
While preliminary competitions had already begun in curling, ice hockey, luge and various skiing events, the opening ceremony was a chance for the host country to make a statement to the world with an unforgettable display and performance. The much-awaited spectacle, which was held at the National Stadium in Beijing, began at 8 p.m. local time (7 a.m. ET) and was broadcast live on NBC.
The United States has imposed a diplomatic boycott of this year's Beijing Olympics. While American athletes will still participate, President Joe Biden's administration will not send an official delegation to the Games due to China's "ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity" in the northwestern Xinjiang region, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters last December. The move was swiftly followed by Australia, the United Kingdom and Canada.
Olympic cauldron is lit
The torch was passed from speedskater Zhao Weichang to short-track athlete Li Yan, before being passed to short-track athlete Yang Yang, track-and-field Olympian Su Bingtian and short-track athlete Zhou Yang.
It was then passed to two final 2022 Olympians: cross-country skier Dinigeer Yilamujiang and Nordic Combined athlete Jiawen Zhao.
The two lit the Olympic cauldron together to represent gender equality.
Dinigeer is from Xinjiang and is of the Uyghur minority. Chinese President Xi Jinping and the nation's government have been accused of genocide and human rights violations against this population, prompting international protests and a U.S. diplomatic boycott.
Fireworks then erupted over the stadium and officially commenced the Winter Olympics.
Xi declares Games open as performances continue
Chinese President Xi Jinping declared the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing officially open, following remarks from International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach.
The declaration was followed by a display of fireworks overhead and performers -- some on roller skates -- gliding or walking across the stadium floor, revealing colorful images and photographs behind them.
Next, there was a rendition of John Lennon's iconic song "Imagine." Then another poignant, snowflake-filled performance where dozens of children joyfully sang in unison.
Messages of peace and solidarity drive speeches
Beijing Communist Party Secretary and President of the Beijing 2022 Organising Committee Cai Qi thanked and welcomed the athletes, offering words of peace and unity -- a running theme throughout the opening ceremony.
"The Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 is to show the world how people boldly rise to challenges and forge ahead into the future that is being worked together to add a new chapter to building a community with a shared future for mankind," he said.
International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach in turn thanked the Chinese people "wholeheartedly" for being "gracious hosts" and "welcoming us all so warmly" in his official speech in the opening ceremony.
He also extended gratitude to those on the front lines, including doctors and scientists, for their "outstanding efforts and solidarity" amid the global COVID-19 pandemic.
He made no direct mention of the alleged Uyghur genocide and crimes against humanity in the country but did emphasize the importance of peace and unity.
"You will live peacefully together under one roof in the Olympic village," Bach told athletes. "There will be no discrimination for any reason whatsoever."
"In our fragile world with division, conflict and mistrust 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 added, saying this is the mission of the Olympic games.
He then said: "I appeal to all political authorities across the world: Observe your commitment to this Olympic truce. Give peace a chance."
Dazzling display represents unity
Snowflakes representing all of the countries converged on the floor of the National Stadium, symbolizing the world coming together.
The imagery was inspired by the uniqueness of each individual snowflake, as well as a Chinese poem that describes a snowy canopy at the center of a gathering.
A stunning 3D display of the Northern Lights took over the arena, as dancers filled the stadium in the next portion of the creative performance.
A 'Parade of Nations' enters the 'Bird's Nest'
After a short but colorful opening performance, some of the athletes from the participating Olympic teams marched into the "Bird's Nest" for the hourlong "Parade of Nations" segment of the ceremony.
The parade has been part of the opening ceremonies at the Games since the 1908 Summer Olympics in London. Traditionally, each team chooses just one flag-bearer for the parade. But starting last year at the pandemic-delayed 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, teams were encouraged to select both a male and female representative to carry their flag.
As with the opening ceremony of the pandemic-delayed 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, all athletes marching in this "Parade of Nations" wore face masks to protect against COVID-19.
Teams entered the "Bird's Nest" in order by the number of strokes in the first character of their name in the Chinese writing system. However, the first team to enter is always Greece because that's where the ancient Games originated in 776 B.C.
And as the host of the next Winter Olympics in 2026, Italy's team was second-to-last to enter the stadium. The current host country, China, was last.
With Russia's team name, flag and national anthem once again banned from the Games over allegations of a state-backed doping program, the country's athletes marched into the stadium this year with the Olympic flag and under the name ROC, an acronym for Russian Olympic Committee.
It's the third time that Russia has not been able to use its own name, flag or anthem at the Olympics. Last summer, Russian athletes competed as part of the ROC at the Tokyo Games. During the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, Russia's team was branded as OAR, an acronym for Olympic Athletes from Russia.
Team USA was 56th to enter the stadium, with the second-largest delegation in U.S. history.
Bobsledder Elana Meyers Taylor and curler John Shuster were named Team USA's flag-bearers. However, Meyers Taylors was unable to attend the opening ceremony because she tested positive for COVID-19. Speed skater Brittany Bowe marched in her place during the "Parade of Nations."