Let the Games begin
By AP Correspondents in Beijing

China commandeered the world stage Friday, celebrating its first-time role as Olympic host with a stunning display of pageantry and pyrotechnics to open the Beijing Olympics Games.

Now ascendant as a global power, China welcomed scores of world leaders to an opening ceremony watched by 91,000 people at the eye-catching National Stadium and a potential audience of four billion worldwide. It was depicted as the largest, costliest extravaganza in Olympic history, book ended by barrages of some 30,000 fireworks.

To the beat of sparkling explosions, the crowd counted down the final seconds before the show began. A sea of drummers - 2,008 in all - pounded out rhythms with their hands, then acrobats on wires gently wafted down into the stadium as rockets shot up into the night sky.

His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam was among the world leaders who watched China make this bold declaration that it had arrived.

It was time, the International Olympic Committee said, to bring the games to the homeland of 1.3 billion people, a fifth of humanity.

Accompanying His Majesty was HRH Prince 'Abdul Mateen.

The games, said IOC President Jacques Rogge, "are a chance for the rest of the world to discover what China really is".

The story presented in Friday's ceremony sought to distill 5,000 years of Chinese history - featuring everything from the Great Wall to opera puppets to astronauts, and highlighting achievements in art, music and science. Roughly 15,000 people were in the cast, all under the direction of Zhang Yimou.

He produced some majestic and ethereal imagery - at one point a huge, translucent globe emerged from the stadium floor, and acrobats floated magically around it to the accompaniment of the games' theme song, "One World, One Dream".

A record 204 delegations paraded their athletes through the stadium - superstars such as basketball idols Kobe Bryant and Yao Ming, as well as underdogs from Iraq, Afghanistan and other embattled lands.

The nations were marching not in the traditional alphabetical order but in a sequence based on the number of strokes it takes to write their names in Chinese. The exceptions were Greece, birthplace of the Olympics, which was given its traditional place at the start, and the 639-member Chinese team, which lined up last with Yao as its flag-bearer.

Most Chinese have embraced the games, buying up tickets at a record pace, volunteering by the thousands for Olympic duties, nursing expectations of triumphs by their home team.

To their eyes, the omens were good. The ceremony began at 8pm on the eighth day of the eighth month of 2008 - auspicious in a country where eight is the luckiest number. - Borneo Bulletin (9th August 2008)