Olympics Summer

Opening ceremony: As it unfolded

Follow the festivities as the Summer Olympics kicked off in Beijing.

After years of seemingly endless talk about air quality, press freedoms and human rights records, it's finally time: the 2008 Beijing Olympics are underway.

Well, sort of.

Before the fun and Games begin, there's the small matter of the opening ceremony (CBC, 8 a.m. ET; encore 6 p.m. ET). Many will find this decadent three-hour-plus spectacle enlightening and exhilarating. Others may long for the endless talk about air, the press and human rights.

Either way, you can follow the entire spectacle from Beijing's National Stadium right here with our live blog of the opening ceremony.

On with the show:

12:10 p.m. ET: Well, the potential Greatest Olympics Of All Time are off to a fine start. The opening ceremony clocked in at just over four hours, but went off pretty much without a hitch, with some dazzling theatrics to boot. Here's hoping we're in for more of the same over the next 16 days. Let the Games begin!

12:04 p.m. ET: Li lights the cauldron, which peeks over the top of the stadium. We're then treated to, and I'll try not to overstate this, the greatest fireworks display in the history of the world. It looks like they're setting them off from all over the Olympic Green.

12:01 p.m. ET: Li takes the torch and is promptly hoisted by cable to the top of the stadium, drawing gasps from the packed house. Now they've got the cable moving horizontally across the lip of the stadium, in front of an animated backdrop of an unrolling scroll. As Li moves right-to-left, a collage of video from the torch run appears behind him. Fireworks have nothing on this.

11:54 a.m. ET: The Olympic flame has entered the building. Rumour has it that legendary Chinese gymnast Li Ning will be the one to light the cauldron.

11:49 a.m. ET: Zhang Yinting takes the athletes' oath. Isn't the part about promising not to engage in doping so quaint?

11:36 a.m. ET: The Games are officially open, as per the pronouncement of People's Republic of China President Hu Jintao. Well done, sir. And thank you for touching off more fireworks. Save some, though: we're going to cruise past the four-hour mark, easy.

11:27 a.m. ET: With the parade of nations (finally) over, it's speech time. First we get the head of the Beijing organizing committee, with IOC boss Jacques Rogge on deck. Fireworks, we need you now more than ever.

11:08 a.m. ET: It's the team we've all been waiting for: China, led by NBA giant Yao Ming. He's joined by a young boy (looks to be maybe 10 years old or so, but since he's standing next to the 7-foot-6 Yao he could be a full-grown man for all I know) who rescued two of his schoolmates during the Sichuan earthquake.

11:03 a.m. ET: Germany enters, led by flag bearer Dirk Nowitzki of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks. That's not going to help you unseat Mexico.

11:02 a.m. ET: And a new leader emerges in the Best-Looking Team contest: Mexico.

10:40 a.m. ET: No way they're bringing this thing home in anything resembling three hours. The parade is still parading. I'm starting to get that dentist's-waiting-room feeling.

10:27 a.m. ET: The U.S. team marches in led by middle-distance runner Lopez Lomong, who came to America as a refugee from Sudan. President Bush is on hand to welcome the squad with his usual hearty wave. For the record, Prime Minister Harper is not here, having elected to send Foreign Affairs Minister David Emerson in his stead.

10:15 a.m. ET: We have contact! Ron just got hold of field hockey player Mike Mahood and shooter Avianna Chao. Neil Armstrong thinks the reception was a little muddled, but nice to hear from the guys and gals on the floor.

10:11 a.m. ET: Seems we're getting a few complaints about the commercial breaks, but I'm kind of enjoying them. We're seeing a lot of brand-new Olympic-themed ads that are pretty good. It's like a poor man's Super Bowl. Plus, how else is the CBC to raise the money to meet my outlandish salary demands?

9:59 a.m. ET: Ron is trying to make contact with a member of the Canadian team via cell phone on the stadium floor. Anyone who's tried to call someone at a rock concert can guess how this ends.

9:45 a.m. ET: Team Canada enters the stadium led by Oakville, Ont.'s Adam van Koeverden, who's not merely bearing the flag but waving it with vigour. Great pick for the job, by the way: I really liked the way he carried himself at the press conference announcing him as Canada's flag bearer. He's a very confident guy with a pretty good sense of humour, and it was fun watching him take playful pokes at the more earnest of the media throng. Plus, he's about as near a gold-medal lock as we've got with his dominance in the 500-metre kayak singles. He should hit the podium in the 1,000 as well.

9:38 a.m. ET: Runaway leader so far in the Best Flag contest: Barbados and its blue-gold-blue pattern with a trident in the middle. Reminiscent of the old Seattle Mariners logo.

9:29 a.m. ET: I stand corrected. Ron MacLean, displaying once again why he was picked over me to go to Beijing, informs us that there's actually no such thing as a Chinese alphabet. Show-off.

9:22 a.m. ET: In case you're wondering, Canada will be the 63rd country to march into the stadium, after Ghana and right before Gabon. Wait, they know we're not Grenada, right? See Bernice's blog for an explanation (the short answer is, of course, that they're going by the Chinese alphabet).

9:10 a.m. ET: The parade of nations is underway, led, as always, by Greece. In all, 204 countries will take part. It would have been 205, but Brunei was booted today after its national Olympic committee failed to register the country's two athletes by the required deadline. Can't wait to hear the official explanation for that one. What, was the Olympic committe tied up with something more important than signing up its athletes for the Olympics?

8:57 a.m. ET: Hundreds of guys in white outfits perform a finely choreographed tai chi routine. Wow, that was much more impressive then the solo tai chi routine performed every afternoon at the park near my apartment by that shady unemployed guy.

8:46 a.m. ET: China's top-ranked pianist performs amid a seas of guys wearing neon outfits covered in tiny light bulbs. Viewed from above, the lights form the shape of a bird in flight. Then they move to form the shape of the National Stadium, aka the "Bird's Nest." Smooth.

8:29 a.m. ET: My long-term memory being what it is, I'm not 100 per cent sure on this, but I don't remember seeing TV ads during the opening ceremonies of the past. I'll just say this: it's a good thing I didn't miss that paper-making segment, or I'd be plenty upset. I'll also say this: you can catch the entire opening ceremony commercial-free via CBCSports.ca's live stream (good, now that I've made that shameless plug, my boss can stop sending intermittent electrical currents through my spinal column).

8:21 a.m. ET: We're onto the story of China's great technological innovations over time. First it was gunpowder, then paper making, then the movable-type printer. It's not that I'm not enthralled, but… Get to the fireworks! We need more fireworks.

8:14 a.m. ET: The Chinese national anthem (who knew it was so bouncy?) is followed by the second short fireworks display of the show. If you're scoring at home, I think we're down to 28,500 fireworks.

8:10 a.m. ET: A little overview of what we'll see today: Besides the parade of nations and the lighting of the Olympic cauldron, famed film director Zhang Yimou (House of Flying Daggers ) has been charged with the simple task of distilling 5,000 years of Chinese history into about an hour. Oh, and 29,000 fireworks will be set off at various sites around Beijing. Apparently the hosts are taking a nuanced, understated approach to this year's ceremony.

8 a.m. ET: With the festivities set to begin, now seems like a good time to clarify that I'm not in Beijing. Rather, like much of the CBC's hardworking crew, I'm bunkered down in the friendly confines of our Toronto broadcast centre. Word has it that it came down to a decision over whom to send to Beijing: me or Ron MacLean. An agonizing call, I've been told. But if you'd like to read a blog actually written from Beijing, our own Bernice Chan is on the scene doing her typically fine work. Just click on the link on the right-hand side of the page. I won't be mad.