Chinese president declares Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games open

Chinese President Xi Jinping declared the Olympic Winter Games open on Friday, during a subdued opening ceremony that followed less than six months after the end of the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Summer Games.

Subdued opening ceremony came less than 6 months after close of pandemic-delayed Tokyo Games

Flag-bearers Charles Hamelin and Marie-Philip Poulin of Team Canada lead the team during the opening ceremony of the Olympic Winter Olympics at the Beijing National Stadium on Friday in Beijing, China. (Alex Pantling/Getty Images)

Chinese President Xi Jinping declared the Olympic Winter Games open on Friday, during a subdued opening ceremony that followed less than six months after the end of the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Summer Games.

Before Xi declared the Games open, International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach wished those in attendance and those watching at home a happy new year, as those celebrating the Lunar New Year are in the midst of that celebration, which began earlier this week, ushering in the Year of the Tiger.

"This Year of the Tiger is also an Olympic year," Bach said. "Both the Year of the Tiger and the Olympic year stand for ambition, courage and strength. Today, thanks to this ambition, China is a winter sport country."

Indeed, Bach noted that some 300 million Chinese residents are now participating in winter sports, at more than 2,000 ice rinks and ski resorts.

"Now your moment has come: the moment you have been longing for, the moment we all have been longing for," Bach told the more than 2,400 athletes who will be competing at these Games. "Now your Olympic dream is coming true in magnificent venues supported by hundreds of millions of new Chinese winter sport fans."

Bach noted that athletes living together in the Olympic Athlete's Village show the world how rivals can live together in harmony.

"There, there will be no discrimination for any reason whatsoever. In our fragile world, where division, conflict and mistrust are on the rise, we show the world that yes it is possible to be fierce rivals, while at the same time living peacefully and respectfully together."

After the Games were declared open, six former Olympic medallists from China carried the Olympic flag into the National Stadium as a children's choir sang the Olympic anthem in Greek, having practiced for three months.

To close the opening ceremony, seven torch-bearers — winter-sport athletes who were born sequentially in the 1950s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s and 2000s — carried the Olympic flame in a final relay into the stadium. One male and one female torch-bearer shared the last torch in a display of gender equality.

The torch was then placed inside a giant snowflake that hung over the stadium, before a massive fireworks display erupted to mark the end of the ceremony.

WATCH | Olympic flame placed in giant snowflake at opening ceremony:

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'We are cheering for everyone'

Athletes from more than 90 countries marched into Beijing's National Stadium, a.k.a. the "Bird's Nest," for the opening ceremony of these Games — a familiar scene as the city is the first to host both a Summer and Winter Olympics, with many venues repurposed for winter use after the 2008 Summer Games.

Canada's flag-bearers, veteran short track speed skater Charles Hamelin and hockey star Marie-Philip Poulin, led Team Canada into the 80,000-seat National Stadium 27th out of more than 90 countries that have sent teams to these Games. 

Hamelin said he had "chills" when he received the flag, and while athletes are following COVID-19 protocols, Team Canada is still banding together to support one another.

"We are limited in our contact, but we are cheering for everyone," he said right before marching into the stadium.

WATCH | Poulin and Hamelin lead Team Canada into the opening ceremony:

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Team Canada's flag-bearers Charles Hamelin and Marie-Philip Poulin respond to a question about the Beijing 2022 experience in the athlete's village, with tight restrictions around COVID-19.

The Canadian Olympic Committee announced the selection of Poulin and Hamelin on Wednesday, the day competition began with the opening round of the mixed curling round robin tournament.

Also returning this year was opening ceremony director Zhang Yimou, the Chinese filmmaker whose movies include House of Flying Daggers and Raise the Red Lantern, who served in the same role in 2008.

The departure for this opening ceremony, the theme of which was "One World, One Family," was the fact that not a single performer was a professional. All singers, dancers and actors in the show were students from primary and secondary schools, and universities, as well as ordinary citizens from Beijing and across Hebei province. Unlike in 2008, no big-name stars took to the stage.

WATCH | Hundreds of children perform during the opening ceremony of Beijing 2022:

"Chinese culture believes that a truly wise person sees the whole world as a family," the media guide for the opening ceremony read. "We hope that Beijing 2022 will be a reunion of people from all over the world, and that we will all spend an unforgettable Chinese New Year together in Beijing as one family."

The Lunar New Year period began on Feb. 1. 

Fans take their seats inside the stadium prior to the opening ceremony of the Olympic Winter Games at the Beijing National Stadium on Friday in Beijing, China. (Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

The official program began with a countdown of sorts, with a video marking the 24 Jie Qi, or solar terms, of the Chinese lunar calendar. In the Chinese lunar calendar, each month is divided into two solar terms, with were formed generations ago and are based on the changing patterns of animal behaviour, plant growth and weather. To this day, they still guide agricultural production and daily life.

The number 24 is also symbolic for these Games, as they are the 24th Olympic Winter Games.

The Chinese flag was then brought into the National Stadium by a group of Chinese citizens from all walks of life, which included representatives from 56 different ethnic groups in China.

WATCH | Author Joanna Chiu discusses cultural and political significance of opening ceremony:

Not long after, the Olympic rings, which are always on display for an opening ceremony, appeared. A drop of blue "ink" fell from the sky and turned into a river, and the waves undulated until they froze, with a giant cube emerging from the floor.

Twenty-four laser beams carved the names of the 24 host cities of the Winter Games into the cube as hockey players shot around a puck. Every time the puck hit the cube, laser beams shot at it until it broke apart to reveal the Olympic rings. This "ice-breaking" was designed to evoke the ice-breakers we experience as we get to know others. 

Indeed, the stage at the centre of the stadium was composed of HD LED screens, which together resembled a giant ice surface. On that surface also rested the Chinese character for happiness, which people put in their windows and doors during Lunar New Year. They often put it upside down, which then makes it the Chinese symbol for "arrival," meaning the happiness will arrive home.

Snowflake motif

If spectators at home noticed a lot of snowflake motifs throughout the ceremony, it was indeed a theme that ran throughout the event. The snowflake imagery brings together East and West. As a 1,300-year-old line from Chinese poet Li Bai goes, "The snowflakes in the Yan Mountains are as big as a mattress," while the Western proverb reminds us that "no two snowflakes are alike." All are different, but come together to make a beautiful winter, just like different people come together at the Olympics.

The snowflake-like motif was seen on the placards on which each country's name was written as the athletes marched in to the stadium. The design of the placards was also inspired by the "Chinese knot," an ancient Chinese craft of hand-knitting with one single thread throughout. The placard-bearers also had a snow and snowflake motif in their costumes, as well as tiger motifs in their hats, for the Year of the Tiger.

The large snowflake is seen during the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games at the National Stadium on Friday in Beijing, China. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

After the parade of nations, all placard-holders came together to form a larger snowflake made up of the placards of each country, and the large snowflake was framed by olive branches — a symbol of peace — done in calligraphy. It was this giant snowflake that later held the Olympic flame.

Before that, though, more than 600 children holding illuminated dove props ran around the LED floor of the stadium, with stars and snowflakes activated on the floor by their footsteps. The children were dressed in snowflake-motif costumes, which also included the Chinese characters for "peace" and "happiness."

Team Canada fielding 215 athletes

WATCH | Canada's flag-bearers discuss life in the Athlete's Village with tight COVID-19 restrictions:

Team Canada is fielding 215 athletes — third-most for a Winter Olympics and the most athletes who identify as female, with 106 — at Beijing 2022, which runs until Feb. 20.

Beijing is the first city to host both a Summer and Winter Olympics, and has incorporated some of the venues from the 2008 Summer Games.

Bach said that, as of Thursday, some 2,740 athletes from around the world are in Beijing for the Games. As with the Olympic Summer Games in Tokyo last year, no tickets were sold for the opening ceremony, but Beijing organizers gave tickets to select groups of people.

The Beijing Games are being run with strict COVID-19-prevention protocols, including what's being called a "closed loop" system, in which athletes, media and other officials confined to a bubble, away from the public.

In the lead up to the Games, a number of countries — including Canada — announced diplomatic boycotts in protest of human rights abuses in China, particularly reports of forced labour of Uyghur workers.

With a file from The Canadian Press

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