At least for an hour, athletes took center stage in Beijing

‘Parade of Nations’ including athletes from 91 delegations lasts more than one hour as XXIV Winter Games open on a frigid night in the Chinese capital.

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2022 Beijing Olympics - Opening Ceremony - National Stadium, Beijing, China - February 4, 2022. Flag bearers Alexandra Nazarova of Ukraine and Oleksandr Abramenko of Ukraine during the athletes parade at the opening ceremony REUTERS/David W Cerny     SEARCH "OLYMPICS DAY 1" FOR BEIJING 2022 WINTER OLYMPICS EDITOR'S CHOICE, SEARCH "REUTERS OLYMPICS TOPIX" FOR ALL EDITOR'S CHOICE PICTURES.   TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
2022 Beijing Olympics - Opening Ceremony - National Stadium, Beijing, China - February 4, 2022. Flag bearers Alexandra Nazarova of Ukraine and Oleksandr Abramenko of Ukraine during the athletes parade at the opening ceremony REUTERS/David W Cerny SEARCH "OLYMPICS DAY 1" FOR BEIJING 2022 WINTER OLYMPICS EDITOR'S CHOICE, SEARCH "REUTERS OLYMPICS TOPIX" FOR ALL EDITOR'S CHOICE PICTURES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

For more than an hour or so, it appeared that any political turmoil, sub-freezing cold and even Covid-19 concerns were temporarily forgotten, as Winter Olympians were entirely the focus of the international sports world and fans around the globe.

Just twenty-minutes into Friday night’s opening ceremony at the ‘Bird’s Nest’ in Beijing, the traditional ‘Parade of Nations’ began, with athletes from 91 delegations starting their processions under large Olympic rings.

Naturally, as is customary, Greece led the way. The festive athletes parade, albeit with most of the Beijing Olympians bundled from head-to-toe to combat the frigid cold, lasted more than one hour.

Adorned in long white jackets and matching pants, and either red or white hats, athletes from the host People’s Republic of China, were led by flag bearers Gao Tingyu, a speed skater, and Zhao Dan, a skeleton athlete. The host delegations was captured by the strategically placed television cameras and seen by the world for roughly ten minutes.

2022 Beijing Olympics - Opening Ceremony - National Stadium, Beijing, China - February 4, 2022. The China contingent during the athletes parade at the opening ceremony. REUTERS/Phil Noble
2022 Beijing Olympics - Opening Ceremony - National Stadium, Beijing, China - February 4, 2022. The China contingent during the athletes parade at the opening ceremony. REUTERS/Phil Noble

The ‘Parade of Nations’ – which took place in what was a surprisingly crowded-looking stadium, despite China’s strict health, safety and social distancing countermeasures – proceeded for nearly one-hour and ten-minutes, comprising nearly half of the entire ceremony.

Naturally, IOC president Thomas Bach – the 1976 Olympic fencing gold medalist – was seen waving, first with one-hand, and then with both, to the German delegation passing by below him.

As athletes completed their chilly stroll around the perimeter of the stadium, nearly all seeming too excited to appear cold in the minus six or seven degree Celsius temperatures, they took their seats to be addressed by Bach and Chinese president Xi Jinping shortly thereafter.

As the IOC president has continually stressed, time and again, that the “athletes are at the heart of the Games.” Not surprisingly, this was evident in his address to the Olympians, as well as onlookers around the world.

“Our heart goes out to the athletes that because of the pandemic cannot make their Olympic dream come true,” Bach said. “Dear fellow Olympians, your Olympic stage is set, you have arrived here after overcoming so many challenges, living through great uncertainty.

But now, your moment has come – the moment you have been longing for, the moment we all have been longing for. Your Olympic dream is coming true.”

2022 Beijing Olympics - Opening Ceremony - National Stadium, Beijing, China - February 4, 2022.  International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach delivers a speech during the opening ceremony. REUTERS/Phil Noble
2022 Beijing Olympics - Opening Ceremony - National Stadium, Beijing, China - February 4, 2022. International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach delivers a speech during the opening ceremony. REUTERS/Phil Noble

After applause from the world’s leading winter athletes, and a brief pause, the IOC leader continued, this time addressing the athletes 100-percent directly.

“Dear athletes, we are all standing with you, we all are supporting you, we all are cheering you on and may this encourage you to go faster, to aim higher, become stronger, together.”

Bach concluded noting that the athletes will display “ambition, courage and strength” like China’s ‘Year of the Tiger.”

On behalf of all athletes, China’s Wang Qiang and Liu Jiayu took the Olympic Oath, which for the first time at a Winter Games, having been revised prior the Tokyo Games, also highlighted the importance of solidarity, inclusion, non-discrimination and equality.

Athletes had earlier paraded into the ‘Bird’s Nest’ Stadium to a selection of international classic music, including Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1.

Entering the ‘Parade of Nation’ 28 minutes in, the large contingent from Winter Sports powerhouse, known as the athletes from the Russian Olympic Committee paraded in. Russian president Vladimir Putin, who met Chinese president Xi Jinping before the ceremony, appeared to have been briefly caught sleeping during another part of the festivities.

For the first time at a Winter Games opening ceremony, as was the case last summer in Tokyo, both a male and female flag bearer led each nation.

Hosts of the next Olympic Games, in Paris 2024, were marched in by flag bearers Tessa Worley, the country’s top female alpine skier, and veteran freestyle skier Kevin Rolland.

Despite National Hockey League players backing out of the Beijing Games due to scheduling difficulties at home and Covid-concerns, Finland was led by veteran hockey star Vatterie Fillipula, who skated for four NHL teams, having won a Stanley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings in 2008.

2022 Beijing Olympics - Opening Ceremony - National Stadium, Beijing, China - February 4, 2022.  Athletes and flag bearer Valtteri Filppula of Finland during the athletes parade at the opening ceremony. REUTERS/Phil Noble
2022 Beijing Olympics - Opening Ceremony - National Stadium, Beijing, China - February 4, 2022. Athletes and flag bearer Valtteri Filppula of Finland during the athletes parade at the opening ceremony. REUTERS/Phil Noble

PyeongChang Olympic curling gold medalist John Shuster and long track speed skater Brittany Bowe led in a dapper looking United States delegation. Bowe was a late replacement for Elana Meyers-Taylor, the top female U.S. bobsleigh pilot, who is currently in isolation after testing positive for Covid over recent days.

2022 Beijing Olympics - Opening Ceremony - National Stadium, Beijing, China - February 4, 2022. Flag bearers Elana Meyers Taylor of the United States and John Shuster of the United States lead their contingent during the athletes parade at the opening ceremony. REUTERS/David W Cerny     SEARCH "OLYMPICS DAY 1" FOR BEIJING 2022 WINTER OLYMPICS EDITOR'S CHOICE, SEARCH "REUTERS OLYMPICS TOPIX" FOR ALL EDITOR'S CHOICE PICTURES.   TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY    REFILE - CORRECTING INFORMATION
2022 Beijing Olympics - Opening Ceremony - National Stadium, Beijing, China - February 4, 2022. Flag bearers Elana Meyers Taylor of the United States and John Shuster of the United States lead their contingent during the athletes parade at the opening ceremony. REUTERS/David W Cerny SEARCH "OLYMPICS DAY 1" FOR BEIJING 2022 WINTER OLYMPICS EDITOR'S CHOICE, SEARCH "REUTERS OLYMPICS TOPIX" FOR ALL EDITOR'S CHOICE PICTURES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY REFILE - CORRECTING INFORMATION

The penultimate delegation was from Italy, which will host the Milano-Cortina 2026 Games, in four years time. The athletes were led by 2018 Olympic snowboard gold medalist Michela Moioli, who replaced her fellow Olympic champion, Italian alpine skiing star Sofia Goggia, who suffered a crash and knee injury, ironically, in Cortina, just two weekends ago.

All in all, it was a festive, frigid, and memorable night in to officially usher in Beijing the first Olympic city ever to host both Summer and Winter Games.

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