Winter Olympics opening ceremony: Dazzling celebration opens the Beijing Games

BEIJING — Events have been underway for three days, but the 2022 Winter Olympics officially begin Friday night with the opening ceremony.

This is the first time a venue has hosted a second Games opening ceremony. National Stadium, also known as the “Bird’s Nest,” was also the epicenter of the 2008 Summer Olympics, and Beijing is the first city to host both the Summer and Winter Games.

As is tradition, home country dignitaries and Games organizers will give speeches prior to The Delegations Parade. The first nation to enter the stadium will be Greece, followed by all other delegations in the IOC Protocol order, alphabetically by the language of the host country. Italy (as the next Winter Olympic Games host nation) and the host country China will enter last. The U.S. delegation is No. 56, after Bulgaria.

LIVE UPDATES: Live updates as medals will be awarded on Saturday at the Winter Olympics

The U.S. flagbearers are Elana Meyers Taylor (bobsled) and John Schuster (curling). Brittany Bowe (speedskating) will step in for Meyers Taylor, who is still in isolation after testing positive for COVID-19.

Follow along for updates from inside the stadium as the ceremonies proceed.

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SCHEDULE, MEDALS AND RESULTS: Here’s what’s happening in Beijing

Dinigeer Yilamujiang, an ethnic Uyghur, is torchbearer

Torch bearers Zhao Jiawen and Dinigeer Yilamujiang wave during the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games at Beijing National Stadium.

BEIJING — Torchbearer Dinigeer Yilamujiang is a teenager and an ethnic Uyghur from Xinjiang, where China is accused of forcibly assimilating up to one million people.

The allegations, which China denies, include rape, forced abortions and imprisonment.

China’s treatment of Uyghurs has threatened to overshadow these Games.

Seven torchbearers carried six Olympic torches in the final leg of the relay. The final leg featured two carriers – a male and a female – to signify gender equality.

All torchbearers are past winter sports champions born in different decades, starting with the 1950s.

Earlier, a children’s choir from Hebei Province sang the Olympic anthem – in Greek, the native Olympic language, following three months of practice. The Olympic oath was also recited.

– Kim Hjelmgaard and Chris Bumbaca

Beijing staffers, volunteers watch ceremony from afar

BEIJING – As athletes of the world converged on the Bird’s Nest, hundreds of Chinese staffers and volunteers gathered in the main hall of the Beijing 2022 media center to watch the proceedings on a jumbo TV screen.

Some sat on the ground in front of the screen, while others stood on their toes with phones in their hands, attempting to capture the moment. There were loud cheers when the Chinese Olympic team was shown entering the stadium as part of the parade of nations, then a mad rush outdoors in anticipation of the fireworks display that occurred several minutes later.

Like Olympic athletes and coaches, Beijing 2022 staffers and local volunteers have been required to leave their families for the duration of the Games and remain in the closed-loop system, as part of an effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

– Tom Schad

Pita 2.0: American Samoan braves freezing temps

Pita Taufatofua, a Tongan athlete and opening ceremony staple known for bearing the nation’s flag shirtless, is not in at the Olympics (Winter or Summer) for the first time since 2014.

The Olympian in both cross-country skiing and taekwondo will remain in Tonga as the pacific island recovers from a massive volcanic explosion last month.

Nathan Crumpton, of American Samoa, carries his national flag into the stadium during the opening ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 4, 2022, in Beijing.

But fans have not been left without a shirtless spectacle in this year’s Games.

Nathan Crumpton, American Samoa’s sole athlete who is competing in skeleton, carried the American Samoan flag glistening in oil with no shirt despite 23 degree weather in Beijing.

Crumpton, born in Kenya and current resident of Utah, formerly competed with Team USA. He also competed for American Samoa in track and field at the Tokyo Games last summer. His family background allowed him to switch his athletic allegiance to American Samoa in 2019.

Russia sports flag on uniform despite ‘ban’

For the second consecutive Olympics, Russia is technically barred as punishment for running a state-sponsored doping program. Instead, athletes participate as part of the “Russia Olympic Committee,” or ROC. Their flag is not supposed to be used, and their anthem is not played after gold medal victories.

Yet their uniform during the opening ceremony featured a Russian flag on the left shoulder. The IOC approved the fits last November, per Russian News Agency TASS.

Elana Meyers Taylor cheers on Team USA from isolation

Wearing her opening ceremony uniform while remaining isolation, Meyers Taylor posted a video via the Team USA Twitter account wishing Bowe and Schuster good luck and also extended her well wishes to the rest of the delegation.

“I can’t imagine a greater honor in my career than being elected to this position,” she said.

Meyers Taylor added: “If I had one piece of advice to the athletes marching in the ceremony today tonight and competing in these Olympics I would say ‘Just go out there and enjoy it. You’ve earned this moment. You have a right to be here.’”

U.S. speedskater Casey Dawson’s first event in jeopardy

BEIJING – COVID-19 issues have delayed U.S. speedskater Casey Dawson’s travel to China, and there’s a chance they might now cause him to miss an event.

Dawson tested positive for COVID-19 three weeks ago and had been testing negative. But he wrote in an Instagram post that he recently received news that “they now require four negative tests to even consider sending me over.

“My expectation is that he’ll get here,” Matt Kooreman, long track program director for US Speedskating, said Friday.

Kooreman said they’re targeting an arrival date of Monday for Dawson. His first individual event is the 5,000 meters on Sunday. He would be replaced by Emery Lehman, a two-time Olympian. Dawson also qualified for the 1,500 on Tuesday and could be replaced by Ethan Cepuran.

— Tom Schad

Snow, ice themes of athletes parade

BEIJING – For the parade of athletes, organizers desired to use the story of a snowflake as a theme. Countries enter the procession being led by a placard with the country’s name on it, and the placard is in the image of a snowflake – they’re also inspired by the “Chinese knot,” an ancient craft of hand knitting with one thread.

Athletes enter the stadium through a large “Gate of China” and walk under the Olympic rings that are meant to represent ice.

— Chris Bumbaca

Opening Ceremony not a ‘full house’

BEIJING – It is by no means a “full house,” but given the capacity restrictions expected due to the pandemic, several thousand attendees are here nonetheless.

They appear to be an enthusiastic bunch, even after organizers instructed fans to refrain from verbally cheering and instead clap. They gave an adoring welcome to Chinese Communist Party Chairman Xi Jinping, the president of People’s Republic of China, who took his perch alongside IOC president Thomas Bach before the ceremony officially began.

The only fans allowed at these Games are Chinese residents. At the Tokyo Olympics last summer, no fans were allowed at events held in the city due to COVID restrictions.

— Chris Bumbaca

Fenlator-Victorian represents Jamaica this time around

Jazmine Fenlator-Victorian, the New Jersey native who notably teamed with Lolo Jones in one of the American bobsleds at the 2014 Games in Sochi, wasn’t sure she was up for the commitment of making another Olympic push this year. After deciding to leave the American program to build her own team for Jamaica, where her father was born, just making the Olympics in 2018 was considered a Herculean task. She had pretty much moved on after that to start her own business.

But Fenlator-Victorian, who carried the flag for Jamaica at the opening ceremony, decided to give it one more shot when the monobob event was accepted into the Olympic program. Thanks largely to her efforts, Jamaica is back in the bobsled competition and qualified a four-man sled on the men’s side for the first time since 1998.

— Dan Wolken

The Bird’s Nest

BEIJING — The venue for the opening ceremony is Beijing’s National Stadium, known as the Bird’s Nest.

It has a striking, lattice shell design on its exterior made of curving steel beams.

China’s most famous artist, Ai Weiwei, helped design the stadium to symbolize freedom, openness and optimism. Ai became a staunch critic of China’s Communist Party, and in a cruel twist of fate, has been living in exile in Europe for years, most recently in Portugal.

“Since 2008, the government of China has further strengthened its control, and the human rights situation has further deteriorated,” Ai said in a recent interview.

— Kim Hjelmgaard

U.S. bobsledder returns negative test, remains in isolation

BEIJING – There was one positive for Elana Meyers Taylor on a night when she should have been carrying the U.S. flag.

Or, rather, a negative.

The bobsledder told USA TODAY Sports on Friday that she had again tested negative for COVID-19. Meyers Taylor needs to produce consecutive negative tests in a 24-hour span in order to be released from isolation and compete.

The three-time Olympian said Thursday that she had returned one negative test, but her second test was positive requiring her to start the process over. Monobob, the first women’s bobsled event, begins Feb. 13.

Meyers Taylor was chosen by her fellow U.S. teammates to be the flag bearer at the opening ceremony along with curler John Shuster. Speedskater Brittany Bowe, who was second in the voting, will walk in place of Meyers Taylor.

Meyers Taylor is a gold-medal favorite in both bobsled events, ranked No. 1 in the world in both monobob and two-man. But she tested positive for COVID-19 on Jan. 29, two days after she and her family arrived in Beijing. Her husband Nic Taylor, an alternate on the U.S. men’s team, and their toddler son Nico also tested positive.

— Nancy Armour

Russia’s Putin and China’s Xi bond in Beijing

BEIJING – About 30 world leaders are at the opening ceremony. Not present: President Joe Biden or familiar faces from Canada, France and other European nations.

Many heads of state opted for a boycott over the Chinese government’s human rights record, most troubling of all in Xinjiang province in the northwest, where there is credible evidence that up to a million ethnic Uyghurs have been forcibly assimilated.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is China leader Xi Jinping’s de facto guest of honor. Ahead of the ceremony, the two leaders held talks in China’s capital and projected a united front over Russia’s threatening buildup of troops near Ukraine.

“I believe our ‘New Year’s Meeting’ today will inject more vitality into Sino-Russian relations,” Xi said according to state-run China Central Television.

Noted Russia expert Dmitri Trenin said on Twitter that Putin and Xi were effectively joining together to put pressure on the U.S. in Europe and globally.

— Kim Hjelmgaard

Country’s lone Olympian to miss opening ceremony

BEIJING – The U.S. Virgin Islands only has one athlete competing in Beijing, but skeleton racer Katie Tannenbaum said she will miss Friday’s opening ceremony due to a positive COVID-19 test and is currently isolating.

“I was asked to be the Virgin Islands’ flag bearer for the opening ceremonies, and it pains me not to be able to accept this honor,” she wrote in a post on Instagram. “But the most important thing to me is that the Virgin Islands flag will still be flown during the parade of nations. As our sole athlete at these Games, I am honored for the part I have played to help make that happen.”

Tannenbaum, 36, is originally from California but moved to the Virgin Islands before she began competing in skeleton in 2010. She first became interested in the sport watching it at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games. Tannenbaum is far from a medal favorite – her best-ever World Cup finish is 20th – but making the Olympics for the first time was a major accomplishment after she just missed out on qualifying in 2018.

She said her coach, Alex Auer, and USVI chef de mission Ansen Siglar will carry the flag in her place.

She hopes to be out of isolation in time for the skeleton competition, which begins Feb. 11.

“This is not at all how I envisioned my Olympic experience, but I am still endlessly grateful to be here,” she wrote. “Now I just need to get healthy and test negative before the skeleton races!”

— Dan Wolken

Three U.S. men’s hockey players in COVID protocols

BEIJING – After landing around midnight local time, the U.S. men’s team took the ice for its first practice without three of its players.

Jake Sanderson, Steven Kampfer and Andy Miele are all in isolation due to COVID-19 protocols. Sanderson remains in Los Angeles, where the team departed from, while Miele and Kampfer are in Beijing, according to the Associated Press.

The Hockey News reported that USA Hockey is optimistic all three will be cleared by the team’s first game Feb. 10 against China.

— Chris Bumbaca

Team USA’s opening ceremony uniforms

For the opening ceremony, Team USA is wearing specially-designed uniforms by Ralph Lauren.

“It feels like it’s more streetwear and fashionable, and that way it sort of integrates that sporty feel, so it’s definitely something that I would wear afterwards,” American hockey star Hilary Knight said.

The coat is accompanied by a mid-layer jacket, pants, gloves and boots all including recycled polyester fiber from post-consumer plastic bottles. All products are manufactured in the U.S.

– Chris Bumbaca

Today’s biggest Olympic stories

  • Nathan Chen gave the US an early lead in the team competition.
  • Katie Nolan will produce daily, short-form content for NBC’s 2022 Winter Olympics coverage.
  • Veteran broadcaster Bob Costas said that NBC was “dealt the worst hand imaginable” with Beijing Olympics.
  • India took offense to an Olympic torchbearer and will skip the opening ceremony.
  • US freeskier Nick Goepper has quite a dilemma: Should he watch (or not) his beloved Bengals in the Super Bowl before Olympic qualifying?

IOC president won’t comment on China’s oppressed Uyghurs

Asked in his pre-Games news conference on Thursday for his message to the Uyghur population of China, victims of genocide by the Chinese government, IOC president Thomas Bach mustered not one word of support, or even of interest, in the subject. “And with regard to… the Uyghur population, the the position of the IOC must be, given the political neutrality, that we’re not commenting on political issues.”

– Christine Brennan

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