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Beijing Olympics Open

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block. The Beijing Summer Olympics officially began today. Time to start on an auspicious date symbolizing good fortune: 08/08/08.

(Soundbite of fireworks)

BLOCK: Fireworks lit up the night sky over China's capital city. They were part of the games' lavish opening ceremony and heralded the start of one of the most anticipated and controversial Olympics in history. From Beijing, NPR's Tom Goldman has the first of two reports.

TOM GOLDMAN: Famed Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou was the creative force behind the opening-ceremony spectacle. Zhang has a checkered history with the Chinese government. Some of his early films were banned as he established a renegade reputation, but in recent years Zhang's work has been more benign.

Friday, Chinese authorities must have been beaming after Zhang's massive expression of love and respect for his native country.

(Soundbite of music)

The show offered a musically and visually lush trip through 5,000 years of Chinese culture and history. China's four great inventions - gunpowder, paper-making, the compass and printing - were portrayed dramatically with constant fireworks and at one point, a giant scroll unrolling on the floor of the national stadium.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Girl: (Singing) (Chinese Spoken)

GOLDMAN: Children figured prominently in the program, from this little girl singing a patriotic hymn to the 56 kids from 56 Chinese ethnic groups, to the 9-year-old survivor of the May earthquake in Sichuan Province who walked next to giant Yao Ming, the basketball star who carried the flag for the host country.

(Soundbite of opening ceremony)

Unidentified Man: People's Republic of China.

GOLDMAN: Most, if not all, of the 91,000 people at the ceremony roared as the 639-member Chinese delegation entered the stadium. That ended the traditional parade of nations, the high point for many as the athletes march in.

The U.S. team, led by flag-bearer and former lost boy of Sudan Lopez Lomong, sported dark-blue blazers and white driving caps that made them look like they'd just stepped out of convertible sports cars. The small contingent from Iraq got a warm welcome. The International Olympic Committee at first banned that country because the Iraqi government supplanted Iraq's officially recognized National Olympic Committee, but the dispute was resolved and Iraq's 10 athletes and officials proudly made their way around the stadium floor.

(Soundbite of opening ceremonies)

GOLDMAN: An otherwise flawless program did have some curious moments, like when the delegation from Yemen walked in accompanied by Scottish bagpipes. Such is the soundtrack for an Olympics with the motto: One world, one dream.

Despite the stirring slogans, these games have been battered in the run-up to the opening ceremony with protests, complaints about Beijing's air quality, and China's sometimes heavy-handed authoritarian regime. But Friday, International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge gave the host country his vote of confidence.

Mr. JACQUES ROGGE (President, International Olympic Committee): For a long time, China has dreamed of opening its doors and inviting the world's athletes to Beijing for the Olympic Games. Tonight, that dream comes true. Congratulations, Beijing.

GOLDMAN: The more-than-four-hour ceremony ran long but stayed dramatic to the end. Former gymnastics hero Li Ning, who won three gold medals at the 1984 Olympics, rose from the ground, lifted by cables, and moved his legs as if he were running around the entire stadium. At the end, he lit the Olympic cauldron. All that was left were 16 days of certain drama, both on the athletic fields and off. Tom Goldman, NPR News, Beijing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.