The Olympic Rings are assembled in the 80,000-seat Olympic Stadium.
Fireworks light up Tower Bridge as the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony takes place Friday.
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Performers dance during the opening ceremony.
Artists climb chimneys during The Age of Industry scene of the opening ceremony.
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A general view of the opening ceremony. The 2012 Olympic Games will see 26 sports contested by 10,500 athletes over 17 days of competition.
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British actor Rowan Atkinson, in his role as Mr. Bean, takes part in the ceremony .
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Performers with jet packs take part in the opening ceremony.
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Animals and actors enter the stadium for a British meadow scene.
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Britain's Bradley Wiggins, who won the Tour de France this year, rings the 23-ton Olympic bell, which was manufactured by the same company that made Big Ben.
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Winged performers ride bicycles during the opening ceremony.
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Sheep are led onto the field during the ceremonies.
Sir Chris Hoy of the Great Britain Olympic cycling team carries his country's flag during the opening ceremony.
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British musician Paul McCartney raises his arms as he sings at the end of the opening ceremony.
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Fireworks explode from the roof of the Olympic Stadium.
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British soccer star David Beckham drives a speedboat carrying the Olympic flame to the opening ceremony.
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Torchbearer Sir Steve Redgrave hands the Olympic Flame over to seven young athletes who present Britain's hopes for the next Olympics.
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The Olympic Cauldron is lit during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games.
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Queen Elizabeth II declared the London Games open. The Olympic cauldron is lit.
It came after a staggering and cinematic opening ceremony that celebrated all aspects of British life — from its bucolic beginnings to the industrial revolution to modern-day Britain.
The ceremony also included a glorious ode to British pop culture that featured references to the Beatles and the rock band Queen. It featured a nod to Trainspotting, one of the quintessential films of the show's director, Danny Boyle. There were even a couple of moments of humor with a cameo from Mr. Bean.
In perhaps the most unexpected and surprising moment of the night, the Queen — or a stand-in for the Queen — made a dramatic entrance: skydiving from a helicopter with the help of James Bond, played by Daniel Craig.
For the most part it was a dizzying, fast moving ceremony that used emotion and lyricism to make up for technical spectacle that Beijing put on in 2008. As one BBC commentator put it, it was the U.K. version of Slumdog Millionaire, a thrilling character drama, surprisingly rich in action directed by Boyle.
Perhaps to that point, the lighting of the cauldron was refreshingly simple.
The flame made its way to Olympic Stadium on a speedboat driven by David Beckham but once it was handed to Steve Redgrave, one of Britain's greatest Olympians, it was a hushed affair.
With a chorus of children as a soundtrack, Redgrave passed the flame to seven young athletes who lit the cauldron under the watch of 260 Olympic statesmen. The young athletes lit the outer petals on long stems, and like magic, like the sudden blooming of a flower, the 204 cooper pedals lifted from the ground and formed a single, solid flame in the air.
The opening ceremony was not aired live in United States. NBC aired it on tape delay. We live-blogged as it happened. Read below for a play-by-play.
Update at 9:55 p.m. ET. Long, But Good:
Because we caught the live version of show, we're signing off now. But we'd love to hear your verdict of the opening ceremony in the comments section.
We'll leave you with one more review. USA Today kept it simple. Their review opens, "Good show, London. Long, but good."
"It wasn't Beijing. Not as exotic, not as magical. And not as expensive. This opening ceremony was quirky and fun and loud and British.
"There were not the wow moments of Beijing, just many very cool ones among the 3½ hours. There was more humor than we usually see from an opening ceremony, with puns and pop culture among the pomp and circumstance."
Good night. Bill will be back tomorrow bright and early for games coverage.
Update at 9:35 p.m. ET. NBC's Woes:
NBC has not had good press about its decision to delay the broadcast of the opening and closing ceremonies. The AP ran a story about it earlier, saying the network had been crucified on Twitter for its decision.
We're monitoring Twitter right now and most of what we've seen is griping about NBC.
"Once NBC learns who Tim Berners-Lee is it will make setting up a live steam for the next Olympics much easier."
Update at 8:48 p.m. ET. A Country Secure In Its Identity:
Here are a few headlines about the opening ceremony.
-- The New York Times says that "Britain presented itself to the world Friday night as something it has often struggled to express even to itself: a nation secure in its own post-empire identity, whatever that actually is."
-- The BBC says "Twitter is alive with Boyle cast as a hero." They add: "Bringing a movie director to a live show has created a filmic experience for the crowd here."
-- The AP keeps it simple: "Brilliant. Cheeky, too."
She seemed taken by the production. Quite simply, she writes, it was an odd mix of things that worked. We've posted her full evaluation separately, but here's a bit of what she wrote:
"What was amazing about the whole thing was that it worked. It was dazzling and grand and heartwarming and emotional and fun all at the same time. And it was the fun that came through the most."
Update at 7:39 p.m. ET. Fireworks, Sir Paul McCartney:
It would not be an event in Britain without a Beatle. Sir Paul McCartney is introduced and he goes into Hey Jude. We're winding down now. NBC has kicked off its coverage.
Update at 7:35 p.m. ET. Cauldron Is Lit:
The seven young athletes light the outer petals of the cauldron. And like magic, like the sudden blooming of a flower, the cooper pedals lift from the edges to form a single, solid flame in the air.
Update at 7:30 p.m. ET. Flame Is In The Stadium:
The Olympic flame is introduced. The stadium goes dark, a chorus of hushed voices sings in the background as a group of young athletes relay the torch across the track.
Again, the feeling is cinematic and lyrical. 260 Olympic statesmen watch 7 young athletes pass the flame to each other.
Update at 7:24 p.m. ET. On A Speed Boat:
The flame arrives with David Beckham on a speed boat. Sir Steve Redgrave, one of Britain's greatest Olympians, takes the flame and runs toward the stadium.
The athletes, judges and coaches take the oath. And we're about to learn how the cauldron will be lit.
Update at 7:22 p.m. ET. Muhammad Ali:
As the Olympic anthem is played, the Olympic flag is raised with Muhammad Ali looking on. It has been speculated that Ali would light the cauldron, reprising his role at the Atlanta games.
Update at 7:19 p.m. ET. London Olympics Open:
With a few words, Queen Elizabeth II declares the Olympics Games open. With that, the stadium erupts in fireworks and the Olympic flag begins its journey into Olympic Stadium.
One thing left to do: Light the flame.
Update at 7:15 p.m. ET. Past Midnight:
Locally, it was past midnight when Sebastian Coe, the Olympic gold medalist, who led the Olympic effort for London, welcomed everyone to London.
"I have never been so proud to be British," to a roaring crowd.
Update at 7:05 p.m. ET. A Lyrical Spectacle:
By any standard, this Opening Ceremony is a spectacle even after the bank-busting extravagance of Beijing.
Perhaps my favorite part so far is the Arctic Monkeys performing a cover of The Beatles' Come Together. The band was surrounded by people riding bicycles with white LED-lit wings flapping.
At one point, in what can be likened to the dramatic climax of the film E.T., one of the cyclists took flight. It was lyrical and poignant, a post-modern take on the traditional release of the peace doves.
Update at 6:55 p.m. ET. Britain:
To the sounds of David Bowie's Heroes, the British delegation enters. It's emotional and grand with 7 billion bits of white paper — representing every human on Earth — flying through the stadium.
The British uniforms this evening: All white with a golden lining.
Update at 6:48 p.m. ET. USA:
The United States — 530 strong — are now walking through Olympic Stadium. First lady Michele Obama is in the stands waving at athletes as they walk the track.
Most of them are smiling; a lot of them are taking photos. As the BBC commentator put it, they're all looking very "smart" in their blue berets.
It is a massive delegation, among them Kobe Bryant and Lebron James and the man who managed the most Gold medals in a single Olympics: Michael Phelps.
Update at 6:45 p.m. ET. Pistorius:
Oscar Pistorius, the South African sprinter, has made his way into the stadium. He's an incredible story, because as Howard explained earlier, he's a double amputee.
"For the first time ever, a double amputee will be running in the Olympics. He has the fastest time this year for a South African. This is a ground-breaking event for the Olympics," Howard said.
Update at 6:38 p.m. ET. On A British Meadow:
In case you're not watching, or haven't seen photographs, as the athletes come in, they are placing their flags in the middle of what's been sculpted to look like an English meadow.
They're up on a hill, forming an emotional, colorful display that gets more substantial as the night goes on.
Update at 6:29 p.m. ET. Qatar And Its First Woman:
Qatar has entered the stadium. And with the team a great story: Bahiya Al-Hamad, Nada Arkaji , Noor al-Malki are the first women to represent the country in the Olympics.
"All three women have been given wild cards, but there is still a weight of expectation that is not lost of Al-Hamad.
"'It's an accomplishment for every Qatari woman,' she said. 'I hope I can live up to their expectation.'
"Training at her shooting club outside Qatar's capital Doha, Al-Hamad added: 'Every athlete's dream is to reach the Olympics.'"
Saudi Arabia is also sending its first women to the Olympics. As NPR's Howard Berkes told us, Saudi Arabia joined "Qatar and Brunei as the last countries to [send] women into Olympic competition. Seven athletes once banned because of their gender will compete in judo, track, swimming, table tennis and shooting events when the London Olympics begin later this month."
Update at 6:18 p.m. ET. 'Night Of Wonder':
The front page of tomorrow's Guardian, Britain's most influential paper, will be headlined "Night Of Wonder." Here's a photograph of it.
Update at 6:14 p.m. ET. Arab Spring Countries:
Of course, one of the wonderful thing about the Olympics is that the conflict of the real world is supposed to be left behind. That's why there were some extended cheers, when the athletes of Libya and Egypt entered the stadium. Since the last elections, both countries have removed a dictator.
Update at 6:12 p.m. ET. Arrests Made:
A quick update on the clashes we noted earlier. The BBC is now reporting that Metropolitan Police in London said "A number of people in breach of regulations imposed on a monthly cycling event have been arrested."
There was no word on how many people were arrested.
Update at 6:06 p.m. ET. Bolt:
With the rest of his Jamaican teammates, Ussain Bolt, the world's fastest man and perhaps one of the most watched Olympic athletes, made his way into Olympic Stadium dancing and laughing.
As The National Post reported, this could be a tough Games for Bolt. He's not at his best but everyone will be watching him push the limit of human speed.
Update at 5:59 p.m. ET. 204 Countries:
The athletes are still making their way into the stadium. Remember 204 countries send more than 10,000 athletes to compete at the Olympics.
An interesting fact: pointed out by the BBC commentators: Bolivia, which has been a part of the International Olympic Committee since 1936 has never won an Olympic medal.
Update at 5:28 p.m. ET. 'Imaginative, Whimsical':
We'll agree with this assessment of the opening ceremony that Associated Press just moved:
"London greeted the world in a celebration of Old England that was stunning, imaginative, whimsical and dramatic and cheeky, even featuring a stand-in for Queen Elizabeth II parachuting into Olympic Stadium."
And because the AP ruined that royal surprise, we'll tell you that the "Queen" jumped off a helicopter along with James Bond, played by Daniel Craig.
"Praise be: at no point does the Queen attempt to push Bond from the chopper. At no stage does she confess that she's actually a deep-cover KGB agent with a wicked plan to take over the planet from her base in Balmoral. Instead she graciously allows herself to be escorted right into the heart of the Olympic stadium. And at this point she leaps out and floats down with a Union Jack parachute."
Update at 5:22 p.m. Parade of Athletes:
Starting with Greece, the birthplace of the Olympics, the parade of Athletes has begun.
Update at 5:14 p.m. ET. British Pop Culture:
The fun part of the show just concluded. It was a glorious ode to British pop culture. It featured references to the Beatles and the rock band Queen. It featured a nod to Trainspotting, another of Danny Boyle's films. There was a sighting of Hugh Grant.
And a moment of humor with Mr. Bean making a cameo during the Chariots of Fire beach scene.
The man who, as The Guardian notes, made live-blogging this event possible was also there. Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the World Wide Web, was shown behind a computer.
It was a dizzying, fast moving section. As one BBC commentator put it, it was the U.K. version of Slumdog Millionaire, a thrilling drama set in India.
Update at 5:01 p.m. ET. A Mass Bike Ride:
As the Opening Ceremony is underway, bike riders in London decided to hold their monthly "Critical Mass," when a hundreds, sometimes thousands of bicyclists go for a ride across the city.
We're seeing tweets that there have been some clashes with police as well as some arrests. Videos are popping up on YouTube that purport to show clashes between law enforcement and bicyclists. There's one here and another here.
Also, Twitter can be useful if you're looking for highlights now. Just follow the #London2012 hashtag. Our own Audie Cornish just sent this missive:
"why do Olympic #openingceremony tweets feel like spoilers. #weknowtheending"
Update at 4:38 p.m. ET. A 'Unique Story':
As Howard told us earlier, Danny Boyle, best known as director of Slumdog Millionaire wanted to show Britain's history with this show. Its "pastoral past and the 'pandemonium' of the Industrial Revolution."