China Grabs Global Spotlight With Spectacular Olympic Opening

BEIJING — The Olympic flame is now burning over Beijing, and the 2008 Summer Games have been opened in spectacular fashion.

The U.S. team received a warm and loud welcome, but it’s the Chinese team led by basketball star Yao Ming that really sent the crowd into a frenzy.

The extravagant opening ceremony featured pageantry, massive pyrotechnics and the traditional parade of athletes at China’s National Stadium, but it was all topped by the unworldly sight of a flying gymnast.

Wires lifted six-time gold medalist Li Ning to the top of the stadium, where he circled the entire circumference as though spacewalking. He then used his torch to send a torrent of flame spiraling upward, lighting the Olympic flame in a huge cauldron that overlooks Beijing.

Featuring some 30,000 fireworks, the opening ceremonies of this year’s games are considered perhaps the largest and costliest in Olympic history. Played out before an audience of 91,000 in the stadium and a roster of dignitaries including President Bush and Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, the event heralds the once-reclusive nation’s emergence on the world stage.

The worldwide audience could number as many as 4 billion people.