Uyghur athlete delivers Beijing Olympics torch during opening ceremony after global criticism of China

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China kicked off the 2022 Winter Olympics on Friday with a pared-down but visually stunning opening ceremony and a message of defiance to world leaders boycotting it.

After a lively snowflake-themed show that focused on youth and “ordinary people”, the Games were officially declared open by Chinese President Xi Jinping, prompting an explosion of fireworks above above the national “Bird’s Nest” stadium in central Beijing.

The final step was to deliver the ceremonial flame, a moment that often carries symbolic weight based in part on who is selected for the task.

Chinese officials chose two athletes, one of whom was Dinigeer Yilamujiang, a Uyghur cross-country skier from the western region of Xinjiang.

The Olympic torch was placed inside the giant snowflake by Chinese athletes Dinigeer Yilamujiang, left, and Zhao Jiawen.Jae C. Hong / AP

The Chinese government’s treatment of Uyghurs has been described by the US government and others as genocide, contributing to a diplomatic boycott of the Games by the US and other countries.

Beijing has repeatedly denied any mistreatment of the majority Muslim minority and insists its actions in Xinjiang were taken to fight terrorism.

The pair placed the flame inside a giant snowflake, a closely watched moment with symbolic weight in more ways than one.

“It was a riposte to President Joe Biden for skipping those Olympics and a message to the West: China will not be lectured on human rights, or any other issue,” he said. Andy Browne, editorial director of the Bloomberg New Economy Forum. and a China expert who appeared on NBC’s broadcast of the ceremony.

China aims to impress billions of people around the world with these Games, and perhaps to momentarily transcend the tense geopolitical atmosphere and strict Covid-19 restrictions that have characterized the preparation for the competition.

With temperatures suitably below zero in the Chinese capital, the ceremony began with an opening sequence focusing on youth and spring. The Olympics begin on the fourth day of the Lunar New Year, China’s biggest holiday, also known as the Spring Festival.

Although Xi, Russian President Vladimir Putin and IOC President Thomas Bach were among those watching from the stands, crowds were limited due to Covid restrictions.

Instead, the focus was on a spectacular tech-driven visual spectacle that included fireworks and a light show before culminating in a block of ice that was ‘broken’ by hockey players on ice, giving way to five snow-white Olympic rings.

The dancers perform during the opening ceremony.Jeff Roberson/AP

The Parade of Nations then took place, with athletes wearing masks alongside their winter coats.

The order of appearance was determined by the stroke number in the first character of each country’s name in Chinese, with Turkey moving into second place after Greece, which always comes in first as a nation where the Olympics have taken place. begin.

Because China is the host nation, its 176 athletes went last, entering the stadium to cheers and waves from Xi.

The artistic spectacle had a seasonal theme throughout, with snowflakes representing each country coming together to form a giant 3D snowflake projected onto the stadium floor – a high-definition LED screen that is among the largest in the world with nearly 125,000 square feet.

Four-time Olympic bobsledder Elana Meyers Taylor and five-time Olympic curler John Shuster were chosen to be the flag bearers for Team USA at the opening ceremonies. However, three-time Olympic speed skater Brittany Bowe marched on behalf of Meyers Taylor after she recently tested positive for coronavirus.

The Winter Olympics are much smaller than the summer edition, with around 90 countries taking part in the Beijing Games, compared to more than 200 which sent athletes to Tokyo last year. Many countries in Beijing are represented by a single athlete, including Albania, East Timor, Ghana, India, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan.

Much larger delegations represent Winter Olympic powers like the United States, Germany, Canada and Norway – the country with by far the most medals in the event’s history. Athletes from Russia, another country that dominates winter sports, are once again competing under the banner of their national Olympic committee after a doping scandal.

The United States team in the parade of athletes during the opening ceremony.Marko Djurica / Reuters

“The ceremony as a whole was a reduced affair compared to previous years, amid efforts by the IOC and the Chinese government to promote sustainability and limit excess.

Although it started and ended with fireworks, there were only about 10% more than the last time Beijing hosted the Olympics in 2008, according to Reuters. Renowned Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou, who led both the ceremony and this one, told Chinese state media that the performers in this year’s performance will be “ordinary people”.

“The world is looking to China, and China is ready,” Xi said Thursday ahead of the launch. “We will do our best to provide the world with a streamlined, safe and beautiful Games.”

Unlike the epic opening ceremony of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, which lasted about four hours, this year’s pageantry has been simplified and shortened to less than 100 minutes due to the pandemic and the cold weather, according to Xinhua, the Chinese state news agency.

Only 3,000 artists, the vast majority of whom were teenagers, took part, down from 15,000 in 2008, according to Xinhua.

The Chinese flag was passed from hand to hand as he entered the stadium.Adam Jolie/Getty Images

The sea of ​​spectators in 2008 also disappeared after China banned international fans, and Olympic organizers said they would not sell tickets to the general public in China.

Besides Biden, the Australian, British and Canadian leaders were absent from the opening ceremony. India on Thursday said the top diplomat from its embassy in Beijing would also not be present after the torch relay featuring a Chinese soldier injured in a deadly 2020 clash between troops on the Indo border. -Chinese.

Putin, the Russian leader, was in Beijing, however, in a show of unity with China amid Moscow’s standoff with the West over Ukraine.

The two leaders met on Friday before the opening ceremony, issuing a joint statement in which they declared their opposition to any enlargement of NATO as well as independence in any form from Taiwan, an island autonomous that Beijing claims as its territory.

The Games come at a time when Russia and China have become increasingly confrontational towards the West, and all eyes will be on Russia to see if it chooses to take advantage of the start of the Olympics and the distraction of the world to invade Ukraine, as it did in 2008 when it invaded the former Soviet republic of Georgia.

In the weeks leading up to the Games, there were scattered protests around the world against the decision to host Beijing.

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