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BEIJING — China Central Television broadcast four hours of the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony Friday night without interruption, culminating in the lighting of the flame by Li Ning, a six-time medal-winning gymnast at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and founder of the most famous local sportswear brand.
Four billion viewers worldwide will have watched the event at China’s National Stadium, or “Bird’s Nest,” by the time U.S. rights-holder NBC begins primetime coverage at 7:30 p.m. ET.
“One world, one dream, that is what we are tonight,” said International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge, intoning the city’s Olympics slogan as he opened the ceremony with Beijing Mayor Liu Qi.
The broadcast, carried without visible sponsorship, captured a spectacle of Chinese cultural elements — from a giant scroll painting to periodic displays of massive fireworks — all choreographed by film director Zhang Yimou, who did not appear on TV.
CCTV, the world’s largest television network by number of viewers, delivered the ceremony to nearly all of China’s 1.3 billion citizens via five channels, including the so-called Olympic Channel, CCTV-5, the state-run broadcaster’s dedicated sports network.
World leaders from Chinese President Hu Jintao, who officially called the Games open, to U.S. President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin, were given periodic face time during the broadcast, particularly when their countries’ athletes paraded into the multimillion-dollar open-air stadium.
Houston Rockets basketball star Yao Ming bore the Chinese flag into the stadium at the head of his national team, one of 204 participating from around the world.
While security in the capital was tight — the national airport was closed for the duration of the broadcast, for instance — police checks at the stadium itself were less strict. One attendee reached by phone said, “There was a metal detector, but I could have brought a banner in if I wanted to.”
Potential protests against China’s communist government — over issues of human rights violations, media freedoms and pollution — were high on the list of organizers’ concerns in the run-up to the Games, which last for 17 days.
Earlier in the day, Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, an advocacy group for media freedom, released a statement claiming it had begun a clandestine FM radio broadcast in the capital 12 hours before the opening ceremony.
China’s media, including state-run CCTV, aims to project the nation’s best face to the world during the tournament China was awarded in 2001.
Businesspeople from the world over attending the Games expressed wishes that the event would afford a new opportunity to work in the world’s largest potential marketplace.
Jack Wakshlag, Turner Broadcasting chief research officer, said before the ceremony that he hoped that all the Chinese government’s talk of openness around the Games would lead to results.
Despite Turner’s mid-1990s attempts to crack China’s cable television market coming to naught, Wakshlag said, “We welcome the Olympics in China and hope it does open up the marketplace, as it should be.”
Some spectators at the stadium said that the parade of athletes lasted too long and was boring, but their opinions might have been colored by the stifling heat and humidity.
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