North Korea did not make an appearance at this opening ceremony. Why? It was suspended by the IOC for not participating in the 2021 Tokyo Games. But the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, this morning sent a personal message to China’s president, Xi Jinping, congratulating him on the Games as a “great victory”.
“The successful opening of the Beijing Winter Olympics despite the worldwide health crisis and unprecedented severe circumstances is another great victory won by socialist China,” Kim said in the letter, according to Pyongyang’s official news agency KCNA.
A message like this is not just about saying nice things about the Games, however. In the letter, Kim also expressed his wish to improve relations with its powerful neighbour. The 38-year-old ruler said that he would “steadily develop the relations between the two parties and the two countries to a new high stage.”
The mighty United States women’s hockey team launched their first Olympic title defense in two decades with an air of menace on Thursday night, roaring to a 5-2 win in the opening game of pool play against a Finland team expected to contend for a medal.
But the Americans’ hopes of becoming the first team to win back-to-back Olympic gold medals were dealt a devastating blow early on when assistant captain Brianna Decker suffered a leg injury that will sideline her for the duration of the tournament.
Speaking of Team Chinese Taipei, which has four athletes competing in this month’s Beijing Games… Last week it announced it would not attend the opening ceremony, but it made a U-turn this week, citing pressure from the IOC that urged it to “fulfil obligations under the Olympic Charter”.
The IOC last year also cited charter rules when deciding to suspend North Korea from the Beijing Games, because Pyongyang refused to send a team to Tokyo for the summer Olympics, citing Covid fears.
On an island not known for its snow or ice, something is stirring. Not so long ago when Team GB turned up at the Winter Games, they left with their medal cupboard looking barren or bare. Sure, there was the occasional highlight – and those of a certain age will see Robin Cousins, Torvill and Dean and Rhona Martin in their mind’s eye – but as a winter sports country, Britain carried a distinct whiff of Eddie the Eagle: harmless and a little bit hapless.
This year’s Winter Olympics is also a game of competing narratives. China’s slogan is “Together for a Shared Future”, but opponents draw attention to the country’s human rights record.
Last night, US Speaker Nancy Pelosi, US’s top Democrat in Congress, highlighted Beijing’s actions in its own Xinjiang region, saying the country’s treatment of its Uyghurs population is “horrible” and “diabolical”. She also called the camps – which the Chinese call vocational education and training centres – in Xinjiang “slave labour”.
The US and some of its closest allies – including the UK – have staged a diplomatic boycott. Attendees to the Winter Games in Beijing tonight include Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman, Kassym-Jomart Tokayev of Kazakhstan and Poland’s Andrzej Duda.
Of all the sport I watched in the 1970s nothing – not Gordon Banks’s save in Mexico, the Rumble in the Jungle or Emlyn Hughes hugging Princess Anne on a Question of Sport – made such an impression on me. Thinking about it now I realise something: I remember the whole of Franz Klammer’s run at Innsbruck in vivid colour. Odd, because I know for a fact that the television I watched it on was black and white.
The opening ceremony of the Beijing Summer Olympics began at 8.08pm local time on 8 August 2008; the Chinese believe eight is an auspicious number. That evening, Chinese-American Kaiser Kuo was watching from the balcony of his apartment in eastern Beijing. “It was meant to be impressive, and watching as a Chinese person, it certainly was: all the pageantry of history, the flawless performances, the grand scale,” Kuo says.
“But watching through my western eyes, this spectacular event also played into a sense of fear: the robotic juggernaut and machine-like rise. It was intimidating.”
The opening of the Games featured prominently on national broadcaster CCTV’s main evening news bulletin. Tonight, the programme began with a long segment on the Xi-Putin meeting, which was held this afternoon, and ended with a bird’s-eye view of the Birds Nest, where the ceremony is about to be held.
Over the 17 days of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, more than 70% of the American population tuned in to watch on NBC, which has owned the exclusive US broadcast rights since 1988. The official audience figure of 215m domestic viewers far exceeded guarantees to advertisers and represented the apotheosis of the network’s star-driven storytelling ethos under longtime NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol, one of the last high-profile sports TV impresarios.
But as the Olympics return to the Chinese capital less than 14 years on, the awareness and general buzz around the Games stateside, while impossible to quantify with any precision, has never felt lower.