in Beijing, China
08-08-2008: Beijing promises to rock
Games opening ceremony
LIVE on UBC
THE Chinese love to refer to themselves as a Third World country that thinks like a world super-power. The countryâ€™s innumerable critics prefer labelling them the â€œThird World super-powerâ€.
That said, only those who dare under-estimate the Chinese will be surprised that organisers of the Beijing Olympic Games intend to make a statement of intent with an all-conquering performance at the Gamesâ€™ opening ceremony at the mythical Birdâ€™s Nest Stadium today.
Year of the Rat
The climax of what should be an already glittering $40 billion Games will be the lighting of the torch at 8pm on this 8th day of the eighth month, eight years into the new millennium (8-08-08).
Aptly, 2008 marks the Year of the Rat, an animal considered in Chinese folklore to be a good omen and protector of material prosperity.
And as well it might, for China has more than asserted its status as a global giant by flexing her economic muscle and is enjoying unprecedented levels of domestic consumption.
â€œWe were told at a meeting of Chef-De-Missions (delegation leaders) today that we should all expect a very big surprise,â€ Ugandaâ€™s team manager Justine Ligyalingi said.
â€œEverything has been excellent so far. We are all now anxious to see how far they can go at the opening ceremony.â€
The Beijing skyline was lit by fireworks in a rehearsal last Saturday.
For a dry run, it was simply spectacular and the world cannot await the event proper and the â€œsurpriseâ€.
The worldâ€™s most populous nation clearly has in mind a coming-of-age party that will confirm its transformation in 30 years from one of the poorest countries of the 20th century into the globeâ€™s third-largest economy.
â€œFollowing the three rehearsals, we can now declare to you quite solidly, that the opening ceremony for the Games is ready,â€ announced Zhang Heping, director of the Beijing Games Ceremony committee (BOCOG).
Uganda has in past Games been among the last countries to make their entry into the stadium at opening ceremonies.
This time, she will be among the first (position 32) because the stroke of the Chinese characters, and not the alphabet, will be used.
The parade will see a Chinese twist in the order of the teams. The countries will be arranged according to the number of strokes it takes to write their names in Chinese and it will be in ascending order.
This means Guinea will enter the stadium behind Greece that leads the parade because it is the birthplace of the Olympics. Zambia will enter just before host China. The two Koreas, however, will not parade as one team this time.
What Heping did not reveal were details of the lighting of the flame and the last torch bearer.
The flame-lighting is the climax of the show and organisers have worked long and hard in secrecy searching for the wow factor.
At the Olympics in Barcelona in 1992, Paralympic archer Antonio Rebollo lit the Olympic flame by firing a blazing arrow into the cauldron.
Then Muhammad Ali â€“â€“ he of the â€œfloat like a butterfly, sting like a beeâ€ fame â€“â€“ emerged in Atlanta in 1996 to take the Olympic flame from swimmer Janet Evans.
Aborigine runner Cathy Freeman was picked to light the flame in Sydney 2000, creating a ring of fire in the heart of a cascading waterfall.
Athens launched the 2004 Olympics in its ancient birthplace in style. The stadium floor was flooded with water, creating a shimmering sea that burst into flames as the five Olympic rings were set ablaze by a comet flashing down from the sky.
China will relish the chance to match â€“â€“ and even surpass â€“â€“ these memorable innovations.
With several world leaders including American president George Bush and some of the greatest names in world sport like basketballer LeBron James, swimmer Michael Phelps, tennis players Roger Federer and Serena Williams, track stars Usain Bolt and Kenenisa Bekele, soccer geniuses Ronaldinho and Lionel Messi attending the opening ceremony, the airspace over the Chinese capital will be closed for about five hours.
Flights that are not linked to the Olympics will not be allowed to take off or land between 8:00 pm and midnight (Beijing time) at the Beijing Capital International Airport.
Authorities have taken several security measures to deal with possible threats, including terrorism as the final preparations are under way to ensure a safe Olympics.
Surface-to-air missile launchers have been deployed just 300 meters from the Birdâ€™s Nest but ultimately, all that may be unnecessary.
Chinaâ€™s preparations are such that even terrorists would fear to disrupt an opening ceremony already certified classic.