2022 Winter Olympics opening ceremony: Live updates

Published February 4, 2022 at 6:37 AM EST
Performers dance in a pre-show ahead of the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games at the National Stadium, known as the Bird's Nest, on Thursday.
Jewel Samad
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AFP via Getty Images
Performers dance in a pre-show ahead of the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games at the National Stadium, known as the Bird's Nest, on Thursday.

We're following the opening ceremony today for the 2022 Winter Olympics at Beijing National Stadium.

How to watch: The Games are officially underway. Follow live updates below. You can watch on NBC and Peacock, which will also offer an “enhanced primetime presentation” tonight.

Team USA: The U.S. delegation — the largest at these Games — entered the stadium in their classically cool new suits led by flagbearers John Shuster and Brittany Bowe.

Russia competes under the ROC label: Here's why. Also, Russian President Vladimir Putin is the ceremony's highest-profile guest. Putin will also meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping, their first face-to-face meeting in almost two years.

New events: This year's games will include seven new events in snowboarding, bobsled and skiing.

— The NPR Olympics live blog team
(Emma Bowman, Bill Chappell, Nell Clark, Dana Farrington, Emily Feng, Chris Hopkins, Merrit Kennedy, Russell Lewis, Carol Ritchie, Rina Torchinsky, Rachel Treisman)

Off to the races

With the ceremony wrapped, let the Games begin!

Posted February 4, 2022 at 9:37 AM EST
Fireworks pop in the night sky above the Olympic stadium, which is lit in red and shows five silver Olympic rings and a row of flags representing different countries.
Ben Stansall
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AFP via Getty Images
Fireworks explode over the Olympic rings during the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games, at the National Stadium on Friday.

After a patriotic Parade of Nations, emotive performances, an unusual cauldron lighting and plenty of snowflakes, the opening ceremony has drawn to a close. Now, it’s time for the real action.

Competitions start immediately (in fact, some events have already begun) and will run for a little over two weeks. Keep up with the full schedule and results here.

NBC says it will televise nearly 200 hours of live coverage, including 18 nights in prime time (starting at 8 p.m. ET). And it’s promising thousands of hours of streaming Olympics content across NBC, Peacock, USA Network, CNBC, NBCOlympics.com and the NBC Sports app. Get the details here.

Here’s how you can follow along with NPR:

  • As the Games continue, check out NPR.org and the Morning Edition live blog for more digital stories from reporters around the world, including in the Olympic bubble.
  • You can also subscribe to NPR’s daily morning newsletter, which will feature Olympics updates along with stories you need to start your day. 
  • Tune in to your local member station and the NPR One app for continued radio coverage. 
  • You can always find NPR’s 2022 Olympics stories in this special digital collection. 

There will be plenty to watch and learn, up to — and including — the closing ceremony on Feb. 20.
And before you know it, it’ll be time for the Winter Paralympics to kick off on March 4.

Onward!

Opening ceremony concludes

The Olympic cauldron is lit

Posted February 4, 2022 at 9:33 AM EST
Torch bearers light the Olympic Cauldron during the opening ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics on Friday.
David Ramos
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Getty Images
Torchbearers light the Olympic cauldron during the opening ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics on Friday.

The Olympic flame is now burning in Beijing’s Bird’s Nest, in an extremely unique cauldron that looks like a large snowflake with a torch burning in its center.

Seven torchbearers carried the Olympic flame inside the stadium, finishing its long journey from Greece. All of the bearers are Chinese winter sports athletes, who were born in decades spanning back to the 1950s. We’ll remind you, Communist leader Mao Zedong declared the creation of the People’s Republic of China in late 1949.

The flame was placed inside the unusual cauldron by two young athletes: Dinigeer Yilamujiang — who is from the Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region in northwest China — and Zhao Jiawen.

The torch then rose high above the stadium floor as a barrage of fireworks erupted over the Bird’s Nest, creating the pattern of the Olympic rings.

Coronavirus

Athletes, team officials are testing positive at higher rates than others in the Olympic bubble

Posted February 4, 2022 at 9:18 AM EST
Beijing 2022 COVID-19 testing
Andy Wong
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AP
Medical workers spray disinfectant and prepare swabs for people taking part in the Beijing Winter Olympics torch relay activities at a coronavirus test site in Beijing, on Wednesday.

Olympic athletes and team officials who are already inside of Beijing’s “closed loop” sites are testing positive for COVID-19 at much higher rates than other people inside the Winter Games sites.

Upon arrival in Beijing, Olympic participants enter what authorities are calling a “closed loop,” where they live, work, train and compete in communities cut off from the Chinese public.

The positive test rate on Thursday for athletes and officials inside the Olympic bubble was much higher for athletes and officials compared with positive rates of workers and others, according to the latest data from local organizers. Two of 6,572 tests from the athletes-officials group turned up positive on Thursday; only five of more than 64,000 daily tests from other Games participants — staff, media and other “stakeholders” — were positive. Since Jan. 23, the positive screening test rate for athletes and team officials is about 10 times higher than that of the other stakeholders in the bubble.

Asymptomatic or not, infected athletes are sequestered in isolation hotels and risk missing their competitions.

Under the rules, Winter Games participants must produce two consecutive negative PCR tests within a 24-hour span before they can leave isolation. Daily testing is a requirement in the strict list of COVID-19 protocols at the Games.

China is inviting a limited selection of spectators to watch the games, including diplomats, schoolchildren and “winter sport enthusiasts.” Further muting the fandom, in order to curb viral spread, attendees are encouraged to clap instead of cheering or singing.

In all, there have been 308 positive COVID-19 tests confirmed at the Olympics since Jan. 23, including from people arriving at the airport. Athletes and officials made up 111 of that total, while the group of other participants made up the remaining 197.

Ceremony details

The Winter Olympics are quite literally starting with a bang

Posted February 4, 2022 at 9:17 AM EST

Fireworks lit up the Beijing skyline as China launched the Winter Olympics on Friday.

With the dimming of the lights, Beijing became the first city to host both winter and summer Games.

The Olympics — and the opening ceremony — are always an exercise in performance for the host nation, a chance to showcase its culture, define its place in the world and flaunt its best side.

Traditions

Behind the design — and COVID precautions — of the Olympic torch relay

Posted February 4, 2022 at 8:59 AM EST
A torchbearer runs past a pavilion with a multiple tiered roof lines and prominent shingles.
Andrea Verdelli
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Getty Images AsiaPac
Liu Qingquan carries the Olympic Torch at the Summer Palace on February 04, 2022 in Beijing.

When the Olympic torch reaches the Beijing National Stadium today, it'll signal the official opening of the 2022 Winter Games, and it'll also mean the end of an unconventional Olympic torch relay.

Olympic torches are built to withstand conditions along the relay route and often carry symbolism in their designs that represent the host nation and the spirit of the Games. This year's torch is named "Flying" (飞扬 Fei Yang) and includes nods to the last time Beijing hosted.

What the torch's design means

Designed by Li Jianye, the torch is made of light carbon-fiber materials, is resistant to high heat and is meant to withstand 55 millimeters (slightly more than 2 inches) of rainfall per hour without going out.

It has a spiral construction resembling a ribbon, and when held together with another torch during the relay, the pair are meant to evoke a continuous ribbon shape. The interlocking ribbons symbolize China's vision of"mutual understanding and respect between different cultures."

The midsection of the torch is a swirling form meant to represent the Games' ski slopes, the Great Wall of China and, more metaphorically, humanity's quest for light, peace and excellence, the official Olympic website reports. In the center sits the emblem of the Beijing 2022 Games.

Beijing is the first city to host both the Winter and Summer Olympics, and this year's torch incorporates references to the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

Red and silver form the main colors of the torch for the Olympics, while the Paralympic torch features gold and silver. The Paralympic Winter Games will run March 4-13, 2022.

“By using the same color combination and by sharing similar artistic elements with the 2008 torch, we aim to extend auspicious greetings to the world as we did at the Summer Games and to showcase Beijing’s rich Olympic culture,” Li said.

The torch is mostly fueled by hydrogen, making it emissions-free and in line with Beijing's goal to make this year's Games more eco-friendly than in years past. Climate change's impacts are deeply felt during the modern Winter Olympic Games, as global warming threatens to make future host cities too warm for winter sports.

How COVID affected the relay

For the second Olympic Games in a row, fears of the coronavirus morphed how the relay operated.

When Beijing hosted the Games in 2008, the relay's path wound through 19 cities on five continents and was inspired by the Silk Road. But in 2022, the coronavirus ruled out a route like that.

Organizers announced in January that because of the pandemic, the official relay would be shortened to take only three days and use 1,200 torchbearers. The flame will be carried by participants and public figures who have been screened for coronavirus and undergone monitoring since mid-January.

That's even shorter than the torch relay for the Summer Games in Tokyo last year, which featured roughly 10,000 runners crisscrossing Japan for almost three months passing off the flame.

A torchbearer carries the Olympic Torch as they run along the Great Wall of China. Behind them are expansive mountains.
Andrea Verdelli
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Getty Images AsiaPac
A torchbearer climbs the Great Wall of China with the Olympic Torch on Thursday.

This year's three-day relay was set from Feb. 2 to 4 and traveled through the three competition zones of downtown Beijing, the suburb of Yanqing and Zhangjiakou in Hebei province. The flame was lit at the site of the Ancient Olympia in Greece in October of last year then passed onto Beijing's organizing committee.

The relay began Wednesday with a ceremony at the Beijing Olympic Forest Park, where more than 300 athletes, students, volunteers and community members cheered for the beginning of the flame's journey.

Read on about the 1,200 torchbearers, both famous and controversial.

Who are some of the 1,200 torchbearers?

The first person to carry the torch this year was 80-year-old Luo Zhihuan, a former speedskater and the first world champion in a winter sport from the People's Republic of China.

“Today, my dream comes true. I have carried the Olympic flame as a representative of the first-generation of Chinese winter sports athletes," Luo said at the ceremony to begin the relay.

Other legs of the relay's first day were carried by leaders including Jing Haipeng, one of China's most experienced astronauts, and former NBA player Yao Ming.

The second day began with around 40 participants carrying the flame along the almost mile-long Badaling portion of the Great Wall of China, one of the marvel's most highly visited sections.

Among the torchbearers were actor Jackie Chan and Olympic medalists, including five-time men’s table tennis gold medalist Ma Long. The relay also visited the International Grape Exhibition in the Yanqing District.

Jackie Chan poses with many children in red costumes. Some wear warm hats as well.
Kevin Frayer
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Getty Images AsiaPac
Actor Jackie Chan poses with student performers after running a leg of the relay at the Badaling Great Wall.

The last leg of the relay got underway today as the Olympic Flame was carried by around 90 torchbearers through the grounds of the historic Summer Palace in Beijing, an imperial garden built in 1750 during the Qing Dynasty and known for its masterful landscaping and architecture.

One of the torchbearers for this section was Chinese table tennis star Ding Ning, who won a gold medal in the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016.

The torch relay ends today at the opening ceremony when the final torchbearer runs in and lights the Olympic cauldron, signaling the Games can begin.

Controversy follows the relay

The end of the relay won't necessarily mean the end of the stir it kicked up. Controversy is already swirling around one torchbearer, in a year where many nations, including the U.S., have launched diplomatic boycotts of the games over China's human rights abuses against ethnic Uyghurs and other Muslims in the country's Xinjiang region.

India has announced it will not send a representative to this year's Olympic opening ceremony after one of the first day's torchbearers was reportedly a Chinese soldier wounded in the 2020 border clashes between China and India.

In June 2020, India reported 20 Indian soldiers were killed during conflicts along China and India's disputed border in the Himalayas, where both nations have had armed troops stationed for decades. China reported four of its soldiers have been killed.

India has one athlete competing in this year's games, Kashmiri skier Arif Khan.

Ceremony details

Here's the deal with all the snowflake imagery

Posted February 4, 2022 at 8:43 AM EST
People stand around a giant snowflake figure, underneath five glowing Olympic rings and on a blue floor against a dark, twinkly background.
Maddie Meyer
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Getty Images AsiaPac
An Olympic ring logo and a large snowflake are seen during the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics on Friday.

To state the obvious: This opening ceremony is full of snowflakes.

They've appeared in the opening countdown and the Parade of Nations and make up central elements of the set during the speeches and performances.

One segment of the ceremony involves people holding large, snowflake-shaped placards — the ones used as signs in the Parade of Nations — each with the name of a participating organizing committee. The glowing snowflakes are inspired by the Chinese knot, an ancient craft of hand-knitting made by a single thread, representing solidarity and prosperity.

Then they combine to form a massive snowflake. That central snowflake is bordered by loopy, calligraphic olive branches that ceremony organizers say symbolize "all people living in peace and harmony."

Organizers trace the snowflake theme back to two ancient sayings, one Chinese and one Western.

Chinese poet Li Bai wrote more than a thousand years ago that "the snowflakes in the Yan Mountains are as big as a mattress," which organizers say highlights their romantic, imaginative and expressive quality.

They also point to the proverb that no two snowflakes look the same: "All snowflakes are different, but together they make a beautiful winter.

"This is like all the people that come to the Winter Olympics," they write. "The differences be they culture or language can collectively form our global home."

"One world, one family" is another key theme in the ceremony, based on a famous Chinese saying about truly wise people seeing the whole world as a family.

"We hope that Beijing 2022 will be a reunion of people from all over the world, and that we will all spend an unforgettable Chinese New Year together in Beijing as one family," organizers added.

Fun fact: All of the ceremony's participants are "ordinary people" from Beijing and Hebei province, including students from universities and schools — no professional entertainers or celebrities are involved in the performances.

Two rows of people in dresses hold snowflake-shaped placards above their heads, facing each other against a blue background.
Ezra Shaw
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Getty Images AsiaPac
Performers hold up snowflakes with the names of participating countries and committees during the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics on Friday.

Parade of Nations

The United States brings the largest delegation to Beijing

Posted February 4, 2022 at 8:32 AM EST

More than 220 athletes will represent the United States at the Olympics in Beijing, making it the largest delegation at the Games, according to data from the International Olympic Committee as of Friday morning ET.

The U.S. brings a total of 224 athletes. Canada follows with the second-largest delegation at 217 athletes. The Russian Olympic Committee, known as the "ROC," rounds at the top three largest delegations, with 214 athletes.

National Olympic committees are groups officially recognized by the International Olympic Committee. And not all committees are countries.

Following a doping scandal, Russia was banned from competing in the Olympics in 2017. But Russian athletes can still compete under the neutral Olympic committee.

Host country China brings 173 Olympians to the Games, and Switzerland's delegation is the fifth-largest with 166 athletes, according to the latest IOC numbers.

Germany, Japan, Italy, the Czech Republic and Sweden are also among the largest delegations at the Games.

More than 50 committees are bringing fewer than 10 athletes. This year, two athletes will compete for Puerto Rico's delegation, and one will compete for the U.S. Virgin Islands. One athlete will also compete for American Samoa.

In addition to delegations from American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands, more than a dozen other delegations will bring only one athlete competing in Beijing. Cyprus, Ecuador, India and Morocco are also among committees with just one athlete.

There in spirit

Where's Pita Taufatofua? Here's why the iconic Tongan flag bearer is missing

Posted February 4, 2022 at 8:26 AM EST
A shirtless man wearing a red and black traditional skirt waves with one hand while carrying the red and white Tongan flag in the other, walking through a stadium.
Petr David Josek
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AP
Pita Taufatofua makes an entrance during the opening ceremony of the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. Taufatofua competed in taekwondo and cross-country skiing, but he's most famous for carrying the flag of Tonga for three consecutive Games, stealing the show each time.

Pita Taufatofua and his bare, chiseled chest steadily won admirers and racked up headlines for three consecutive Olympic opening ceremonies.

The Tongan athlete competed in taekwondo in Rio and Tokyo and participated in the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics as a cross-country skier (after just 12 weeks of training in snow, we might add). Still, he's probably best known for carrying his country's flag in the Parade of Nations and stealing the show with his oiled upper body every single time.

In other words, Taufatofua's absence from this year's opening ceremony is not going unnoticed (even though he says he feels like he's there in spirit). But he's not just missing from the parade — he's skipping the 2022 Olympics altogether, as he announced on Instagram this week.

"But I continue with joy as I prepare to support all the Olympians who have worked so hard to represent their countries. They are all flag bearers, they all stand for that voice within that calls us all to become our very best," he wrote. "Right now I have another task that calls me, I must answer."

He will instead be focusing on relief efforts for Tonga, where humanitarian aid (and COVID-19) is beginning to arrive and communications are gradually being restored following last month's deadly volcano eruption and tsunami.


Taufatofua, who currently resides in Australia, told Olympics.com that he got a single message from one cousin confirming his household's safety, but didn't hear from his father — who was eventually found safe — for days after the tsunami struck.

Shocked by the footage emerging from the Pacific island nation, Taufatofua started a GoFundMe page to raise money for recovery efforts, prioritizing funds for schools, hospitals, infrastructure rebuilding and others with the greatest need. So far, the effort has raised a total of nearly $800,000 AUD (or about $572,244 USD) of its million-dollar goal, through more than 12,000 donations.

Taufatofua told the site he's grateful to be able to use his global platform to raise awareness and garner support.

"Maybe it's part of being an Olympian or probably just part of being a Tongan," he said. "When times are tough is when you've got to push your hardest. I have to keep pushing. I have to keep doing interviews. I have to keep reaching out to the world and working on a fundraiser. We're trying to do what we can do."

He's encouraging people worldwide to donate to fundraisers — whether to his or to others' — and spread the word. Even if they can't contribute financially, he's asking people to "share the images coming out of Tonga ... so that governments can see that there are 170 islands covered in ash."

For the record, the satellite images showing Tonga before and after the volcanic eruption are truly staggering. See them here.

Updates to the online fundraiser suggest that Taufatofua's been busy coordinating volunteer efforts to assemble and deliver supplies like bread, breakfast crackers, flour, sugar and personal protective equipment to those in need.

While the relief efforts are his current focus, he said he plans to return to athletic competition in the near future. He hinted he's aiming at the 2024 Summer Olympics, which will be held in France.

Taufatofua concluded his Instagram post by thanking his supporters and promising that he was "just getting started."

"Somewhere inside each and every one of you there is an Olympian," he wrote. "Paris 'we' are coming!"

Parade of Nations

Ecuador's sole Olympic athlete is Sarah Escobar, a college student from New Jersey

Posted February 4, 2022 at 8:18 AM EST
A woman in a dark coat and face mask holds a red, yellow and blue flag while walking on a LED floor surrounded by several other marchers.
Ezra Shaw
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Getty Images AsiaPac
Flag bearer Sarah Escobar of Team Ecuador waves their flag during the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics at the Beijing National Stadium on Friday.

Ecuador's flag bearer is also its only athlete participating in the 2022 Olympics: Sarah Escobar, a 20-year-old Alpine skier and first-generation American who can claim dual nationality because her parents were born there.

She was raised in New Jersey and is representing the home country of her parents, who both emigrated from Ecuador.

Escobar is Ecuador's first-ever female Winter Olympian and its first Alpine skier, according to NBC.

Escobar first learned to ski at Vermont's Stowe Mountain Resort, then competed in high school and went on to participate in four events at the 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games in Lausanne, Switzerland. She carried Ecuador's flag there, too.

She's currently a sports psychology student and member of the varsity Alpine ski team at Saint Michael's College in Vermont, according to her biography.

In fact, as the NCAA reports, Escobar was finishing a writing exercise in her freshman English seminar when she got the notification on her phone telling her that she had qualified for the Olympics.

"I had to check my phone twice to see if I was dreaming," Escobar said. "It has been my dream since I was little, and I have been working very hard at it. And I couldn't be prouder of myself."

She told NECN & NBC10 Boston that the podium is a long shot, noting she needs to develop a lot of ski racing skills in her collegiate career.

"My main goal is to finish," Escobar said. "I think I already won my own gold medal, just by qualifying and being a participant — representing Ecuador and all the Ecuadorians."

Escobar will compete in the giant slalom event on Monday.

Ceremony details

Members of Team USA look classically cool, but smart outfits are keeping them warm

Posted February 4, 2022 at 7:59 AM EST
A crowd of people wearing red, white and blue outfits walks over light blue stadium floors, with two in blue jackets in front holding a large American flag.
Alex Pantling
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Getty Images AsiaPac
Flag bearers Brittany Bowe and John Shuster lead the U.S. team during the opening ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics at the Beijing National Stadium on Friday.

Team USA's opening ceremony outfits scream classic Ralph Lauren. The company has been the team's official outfitter for more than a decade, and its preppy, polo-forward gear is hard to miss.

This year, however, the traditional red-white-and-blue jackets are getting a high-tech upgrade: Ralph Lauren says they are made with "intelligent insulation," which adapts to changes in air temperature without any batteries or wires needed.

Here's a video explaining how it works. Two layers of material expand when it gets colder and contract when it gets warmer, changing the amount of insulation provided.

Ice hockey player Hilary Knight told the TODAY Show last month that the jacket "puffs up when you go outside in the cold and ... adapts to different environments."

The jackets are part of a complete set of apparel, including a lighter jacket, pants, gloves, socks, beanies and boots.

“Ralph Lauren has defined American style for over five decades, and we’re thrilled that Team USA will once again wear this cutting-edge, sustainable and iconic apparel at the Olympic and Paralympic Games,” Sarah Hirshland, CEO of the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee, said in a news release.

Indeed, the company has a section on its website describing its sustainability efforts.

It uses recycled polyester and nylon to cut down on petroleum-based materials, as well as verified U.S.-grown wool and recycled down that it says diverts textile waste from landfills. Certain components of the outfits are made from a specific kind of polyester made from plastic bottles.

Team USA

Meet the flag bearers for Team USA

Posted February 4, 2022 at 7:58 AM EST
Flag bearers Brittany Bowe and John Shuster of Team United States carry their flag during the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics on Friday.
Julian Finney
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Getty Images
Flag bearers Brittany Bowe and John Shuster of Team United States carry their flag during the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics on Friday.

U.S. athletes John Shuster and Brittany Bowe have the honor of carrying the flag for Team USA at the Opening Ceremony.

Bowe, a speed skater, is actually carrying the flag on behalf of her teammate Elana Meyers Taylor. The bobsledder was elected by Team USA athletes as a flag bearer, along with Shuster, but tested positive for COVID-19 and will not be able to attend the ceremony.

"Being voted by my peers as the flag bearer is the biggest honor of my career," Meyers Taylor, who has medaled at the Olympics three times, said when the flag bearers were announced. "While I cannot carry the flag and walk in with the rest of Team USA, Brittany is very deserving of the opportunity to lead our delegation on my behalf."

Bowe, a three-time Olympian, was first runner-up in the flag bearer vote. She is known for being an exceptional teammate. Last month, after fellow speed skater Erin Jackson slipped in a qualifying race, Bowe gave up her spot in that event so that Jackson could come to Beijing.

Shuster is one of four five-time Olympians competing for the U.S. at the Games this year, having competed since 2006.

"Being elected as one of the flag bearers is a tremendous honor," Shuster said.

He's also making a bit of history — Shuster will be the first curling athlete to carry the flag for the U.S. at the ceremony.

Politics

The U.S. government is diplomatically boycotting Beijing’s Olympics

Posted February 4, 2022 at 7:57 AM EST

The Bird’s Nest is roughly half-filled with spectators and dignitaries -- but the U.S. government is not officially represented in the stadium, or at these Olympics. The Biden administration announced in December that it “will not be contributing to the fanfare of the games” because of China’s record of recent human rights abuses.

The White House cited the Chinese government's "ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity" in the Xinjiang province as the reason for its diplomatic boycott.

Beijing has long been linked to repressing dissent and censorship, but in recent years, the international community has highlighted the mass internment of Uyghur Muslims and other religious and ethnic minorities, as well as reports of forced sterilizations.

Last summer, firsthand accounts emerged that described a campaign of torture and persecution in Xinjiang province, as well as the Chinese government’s attempts to cover up those abuses.

The U.S., the European Union and other entities imposed economic sanctions on China last year over the extensive abuses that have been documented.

Team USA

The U.S. Olympic delegation marches into the Bird's Nest

Posted February 4, 2022 at 7:56 AM EST
Flag bearers Brittany Bowe and John Shuster of Team United States lead the team during the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics on Friday.
Alex Pantling
/
Getty Images
Flag bearers Brittany Bowe and John Shuster of Team United States lead the team during the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics on Friday.

U.S. Olympians are entering the “Bird’s Nest” stadium in Beijing, along with flag bearers John Shuster (curling) and Brittany Bowe (speed skating) -- who is walking in the place of bobsledder Elana Meyers Taylor, who had a positive COVID-19 test. Because the order of nations corresponds to the Chinese language, Team USA follows Kosovo and Bulgaria.

The U.S. has more than 150 Olympians marching in the athletes’ parade. The overall team had 224 members as of Wednesday -- the second-most U.S. athletes ever at a Winter Olympics, trailing only the 228 sent to Pyeongchang in 2018.

The youngest athlete on Team USA is figure skater Alysa Liu, who is 16. The oldest is snowboarder Nick Baumgartner, who at 40 is competing in his fourth Winter Olympics.

“The 2022 roster includes 107 women, 114 men and one nonbinary athlete,” Team USA says. It adds that the three states with the most Winter Olympians are California (29), Colorado (23) and Minnesota (23).

Parade of Nations

Why Russian athletes are competing under the ROC

Posted February 4, 2022 at 7:48 AM EST
Three Russian athletes pose with the Russian Olympic committee flag.
Hassan Ammar
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AP
Gold medalists of the Russian Olympic Committee sabre team celebrate on the podium during the medal ceremony at the Tokyo Summer Olympics in 2021.

Russian athletes competing in Beijing will compete under the Russian Olympic Committee, known as the ROC, after the country was banned from the Games in 2017 because of a doping scandal.

The International Olympic Committee banned the country after a report from the World Anti-Doping Agency found that Russia's Olympic program supported the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

In 2017, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach called the country's actions "an unprecedented attack on the integrity of the Olympic Games and sport."

In the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, clean athletes from Russia were allowed to compete under the title "Olympic Athlete from Russia," or OARs. In the Tokyo Summer Games, athletes also competed under the ROC banner.

The ROC delegation brings 214 athletes to the Games this year, according to the International Olympic Committee.

Beijing dispatch

How the Winter Olympics are being received in China

Posted February 4, 2022 at 7:44 AM EST

BEIJING — The day of the Winter Olympic Games opening ceremony began clear and brilliantly sunny — a change from the choking smog, linked to the city’s coal-fired winter heating system, which permeated Beijing the week earlier.

Under the bright blue skies, Wang Jianzhi burnishes a pair of ice skates. He runs a famous blade sharpening shop near Houhai, a frozen lake popular among outdoor skaters. Yet Wang says he has no plans to watch the Olympics at all.

“I get busy during the winter season,” he says. “Where should I get the time to watch Olympic figure skating?”

His indifference is a marked departure from the raucous anticipation leading up to the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, which Beijing also hosted.

“Back in 2008, the air was thick with excitement. This time around, whether it's because people don't understand winter sports in China or what, the atmosphere has been much blander, with barely any publicity about the Games,” says Yu Xianguo, a rickshaw driver and a self-proclaimed sports enthusiast.

David Peng, a regular ice skater at Houhai Lake, defended Beijing’s choice to host its second Games: “Hosting the Olympics has improved China's winter sports infrastructure. It boosts China's international influence, especially if it can manage the Games well during a pandemic.”

But asked whether he will actually watch any of the Games, he says no: “People of my generation value ability, not their outfits or fancy equipment. If you can't skate or ski well, you're not worth my time.”

China is strongest in summer Olympic sports, such as weightlifting and diving. It has struggled to catch up to European countries with a long history of winter sports. In total, China has won 13 gold medals at Winter Games compared with a staggering 262 golds it has collected during Summer Games.

To bolster its chances at winning more medals, China has recruited more than two dozen foreign-born athletes to compete under the Chinese flag, plucked Chinese athletes from other disciplines to become winter athletes and invested heavily in winter sports facilities.

Since it won the Winter Games bid seven years ago, China's National Bureau of Statistics says the country has somehow persuaded 346 million people to become winter sports enthusiasts, in the hopes of nurturing a future generation of Olympians.

Retiree Meng Zhaoyin is one of these new enthusiasts. NPR met her on the edge of Houhai Lake, where she's chipped away the thick ice to swim in the freezing water, a popular Beijing pastime thought to prevent colds.

The city government encouraged her to pick up skiing in 2019. “Our political leaders supported us, paid for all our trainers, and we get discounted tickets to the ski slopes,” she says. “I was terrified at first, but I persevered for the sake of contributing to the Olympic Games.”

Now, Meng is part of the Beijing amateur ski team established in 2019 for seniors, which has been heavily featured in state television in the runup to the Games.

“We have about 100 members, but in reality, those who actually know how to ski number only about 20 people,” she admits.

Aowen Cao contributed research from Beijing.

Ceremony format

This opening ceremony is different -- and shorter

Posted February 4, 2022 at 7:32 AM EST

Several things set the Beijing Winter Olympics opening ceremony apart, and the most striking might be its length. The program lists the running time as 1 hour and 53 minutes and 53 seconds — a more compact event than other recent opening ceremonies.

The central visual motif is a snowflake. But the guiding principle is “simple, safe, wonderful” -- and the show’s director, famed filmmaker Zhang Yimou, is leaning into that idea.

Part of the reason, he recently told state media Xinhua, is that the world, and China’s place in it, has changed a great deal since 2008 -- when he directed Beijing’s stunning opening ceremony for the Summer Olympics. For one thing, China no longer needs to introduce itself to the world.

"It's different now,” Zhang said. “China's status in the world, the image of the Chinese, and the rise of our national status, everything is totally different now."

Nodding toward the theme of simplicity, the ceremony won’t include the usual roster of pop stars, professional dancers, actors and artists who often take the stage for Olympics openers. Instead, “all the participants are ordinary people,” organizers said. They’re a mix of students and citizens of Beijing and Hebei province, where the Games are taking place.

Opening ceremony

Why isn't the Parade of Nations alphabetical? Here's the marching order explained

Posted February 4, 2022 at 7:26 AM EST
Greece's flagbearers carry their flag and lead their nation's athletes into the stadium under a logo of the Olympic rings.
David Ramos
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Getty Images AsiaPac
Flag bearers Apostolos Angelis and Maria Ntanou of Greece carry their flag during the Parade of Nations.

The Parade of Nations is underway but the order might have left you wondering: Why does Malta enter before Australia?

During the parade, athletes from each of the competing nations enter the stadium together, waving their national flag and cheering to the audience.

The parade first took place the 1908 Olympics in London and has become one of the most recognizable traditions of both the Winter and Summer games. Still, the order nations walk in always feels unfamiliar to you, you're not alone.

Here's what's going on:

The marching order's first and last spots hold meaning

Greece's delegation always enters first during the Parade of Nations at each Olympics; their perpetual leading spot shows respect to their history as the site of the first Olympics in ancient times.

And the end spots always follow a form as well. The second-to-last spot goes to the nation up next to host the Winter Games — in this case, Italy as it gets set for Milan Cortina 2026 — and the current host nation, China, will enter last to close the Parade of Nations.

Japan's delegation wearing red walk behind a woman holding their name, she wears a facemask and a white and blue snowflake dress.
Lintao Zhang/Getty Images
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Getty Images AsiaPac
BEIJING, CHINA - FEBRUARY 04: Flag bearers Arisa Go and Akito Watabe of Team Japan carry their flag during the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics at the Beijing National Stadium on February 04, 2022 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

The order might make perfect sense to you if you read Simplified Chinese well

The order of the rest of the nations is where it gets interesting. Except for the spots mentioned above, the rest of the nations usually enter in alphabetical order corresponding to the host nation's language. But China's primary language, Mandarin, doesn't have an alphabet like English does, instead it uses characters, which may be entire words themselves.

So for the Parade of Nations order in this Olympics, nations will enter based on stroke order, which is the number of strokes in the first character of the nation's name in Mandarin, and the order by which the strokes are made, Bloomberg reports.

The U.S. delegation's turn will eventually come

If you're keeping your eyes out for the America's athletes, either for their high-tech outfits or for flag bearer and speedskating ace Brittany Bowe and curler John Shuster, Team USA will enter the stadium 56th, right after Bulgaria.

Here come the athletes

The Parade of Nations has begun

Posted February 4, 2022 at 7:18 AM EST

The Parade of Nations is kicking off, showcasing athletes from each participating nation in one of the longest portions of the opening ceremony program.

The procession is an opportunity for each country to show off its culture and traditions and for the athletes to officially take center stage as the Games begin.

The is the first Winter Olympics where each team has the option of naming both a male and a female flag bearer. It’s a change that started at the Olympics in Tokyo last summer. For the U.S., the honors were to go to bobsledder Elana Meyers Taylor and curler John Shuster — though due to a positive COVID test, speed skater Brittany Bowe will walk in place of Meyers Taylor.

It’s traditional for Greece to be the first nation to march in the parade. The procession will end with China, the host country. Italy will walk just before China because it is hosting the next Winter Games in 2026.

The rest of the countries will walk in order that corresponds to the Chinese language. U.S. will be the 56th nation to enter the stadium.

The first official Olympic Athletes Parade happened at the London Games in 1908.

Politics

Russian President Vladimir Putin is the ceremony's highest-profile guest

Posted February 4, 2022 at 7:17 AM EST
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the opening ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics on Friday.
Sue Ogrocki
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AP
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the opening ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics on Friday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is in Beijing on Friday to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping, their first face-to-face meeting in almost two years.

It comes amid the ongoing Russia-Ukraine crisis, in which Beijing has largely sided with the Kremlin. NPR's Brian Mann toldMorning Edition that the leaders talked about the economic ties between their countries, including a new energy deal.

Citing Chinese state media, CNN reports that Xi said the pair met at the opening ceremony for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and promised there that they would meet again eight years later in Beijing. He added that he hopes their meeting will "inject more vitality into China-Russia relations."

Putin is also attending the opening ceremony, with the TV camera at one point panning over him sitting in sparse stands. Because President Biden and other Western leaders are symbolically boycotting the Games, The Associated Press says that makes him the event's "highest-profile guest."

"It's a big contrast with the official position of the U.S. government," Mann explains. "Of course, the Biden administration decided back in December to stage a diplomatic boycott of these Winter Games because of what the White House calls the ongoing genocide and crimes of humanity against the Uyghur people here in China."

So while athletics are very much front and center at the Games, so too are politics.

International Dispatch
From Beijing

U.S. figure skating star Nathan Chen is already off to a great start

Posted February 4, 2022 at 7:10 AM EST
A man wearing all black and figure skates jumps in the air with his feet and arms crossed, at a skating rink with a blue background reading "Beijing 2022."
Elsa
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Getty Images
Nathan Chen of Team USA skates in the men's short program in the figure skating team event on Friday.

U.S. figure skater Nathan Chen is off to a great start at the Beijing Winter Olympics. Hours before the opening ceremony, the 22-year-old put on a dazzling performance in the team event.

Chen's two successful quadruple jumps and great footwork powered him to his highest short program score in international competition this season. The performance by the three-time world champion and six-time U.S. national champ launched him toward gold.

It also gave the U.S. the lead in the team event.

And it was somewhat redemptive, too. Chen skated poorly in the individual short program at the last Winter Olympics, which knocked him out of medal contention. So he was pleased with his strong start this time around — and also gave credit to his team.

"As we've seen since 2018, even if someone doesn't have the best skate, we have an incredibly strong team to back us all up," he said. "That's certainly the case this time around. I'm happy I did my part and skated as good as I can."

Read more here.

Follow along

What NPR reporters in Beijing make of the opening ceremony

Posted February 4, 2022 at 6:56 AM EST

A team of NPR reporters is on the ground in Beijing, covering all aspects of the Games and watching the opening ceremony unfold.

Correspondent Brian Mann is one of them — and he'll be live-tweeting today's ceremony. You can follow along here. Plus,click here to hear his opening ceremony reporting on Morning Edition.

And here are all of the stories Mann, breaking news reporter Jaclyn Diaz, Beijing correspondent Emily Feng and other members of the team have already filed about the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Competitions

This year's Winter Olympics will feature 7 new events

Posted February 4, 2022 at 6:34 AM EST
A large ski jump with the colorful Olympic ring logo on the end towers over the icy ground, against a blue sky.
Catherine Ivill
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Getty Images
In the new ski big air event, skiers will launch themselves down a steep slope and execute aerial tricks. Their best two runs will count toward their final score.

The 2022 Beijing Olympics are set to include a record 109 sporting events, with seven new events in snowboarding, bobsled and skiing.

With a focus on new events with mixed-gender teams, this year's Winter Games offer a greater balance between men's and women's events than ever before, according to the International Olympic Committee.

The IOC says the athlete makeup in Beijing this year is expected to be 55% male and 45% female. This is thanks, in part, to a broader selection of events at this year's Games, giving athletes, especially women, more opportunities to go for gold.

The new events are:

  • Women's monobob.
  • Men and women's big air skiing.
  • Mixed team relay in short track speedskating.
  • Mixed team ski jumping.
  • Mixed team snowboard cross.
  • Freestyle skiing mixed team aerials.

Read more about them here. (And no, the monobob is not the name of a trendy new hairstyle — at least not yet.)

Follow along

How to watch today’s opening ceremony

Posted February 4, 2022 at 6:33 AM EST
Two adults and two children walk at night past Beijing's "Birds Nest" stadium, a wide, rounded structure with white lines crisscrossing the outside and red and yellow lights inside.
Noel Celis
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AFP via Getty Images
The Bird's Nest stadium, the Beijing venue for the Olympics opening and closing ceremonies, was already glowing in February 2021.

The 2022 Olympics kick off today in Beijing, promising top-tier athletics and plenty of national pride, despite the ongoing pandemic and diplomatic tensions.

Some of us armchair athletes may still feel like we’re in recovery mode from the last Olympics, since the Tokyo Games just took place over the summer, thanks to a pandemic-fueled yearlong delay. But the Winter Olympics beckon, with hundreds of world-renowned competitors participating in a record 109 sporting events (including seven new ones) over the course of more than two weeks.

It all starts with today’s opening ceremony, which take place beginning at 7 a.m. ET at Beijing’s National Stadium and include speeches, performances, artistic spectacles and a lengthy-but-spirited parade that is expected to feature athletes from every participating country.

So how exactly can you get in on the action?

NBCUniversal, which has a lock on Olympics coverage, will be broadcasting the opening ceremony on NBC and Peacock beginning at 6:30 a.m. ET (keep in mind, Beijing is 13 hours ahead of the Eastern time zone). It will also offer an “enhanced primetime presentation” of the ceremony, with a special focus on Team USA, from 8 to 11 p.m. ET. Get the details here.

You can also follow along with NPR's opening ceremony here on the live blog on Friday morning, available on NPR.org and the NPR One app.

Plus, keep checking NPR.org, the NPR One app and your local station for more stories as the Games play out. You can find the rest of NPR's digital coverage right here.