First the fireworks, then the Games

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

A record 205 countries will take part in the opening ceremony to the Beijing Olympics when it takes place at 8pm local time today (1pm BST).

The organisers are confident it will be a spectacular curtain-raiser to what will be judged one of the great Olympic Games.

Competition in 16 of the 28 sports begins tomorrow. Players in the football tournament, which is already under way, will also take to the field. Seven golds will be available on day one of the Games and Britain may even win its first of the competition through judo player Craig Fallon.

There are nearly 11,000 athletes competing for more than 1,000 medals in 302 events. China is fielding its biggest ever Olympic team with 639 athletes competing in all 28 sports for the first time, in a bid to top the medals table.

There has been growing concern about the poor quality of the air in Beijing but the president of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge, declared yesterday that athletes would not be at risk.

China has spent £22bn on hosting the Olympic Games – three times more than Greece did in Athens four years ago – and when the opening ceremony is staged no expense will be spared. Details of the event remain secret, but it will feature 15,000 performers and 29,000 fireworks.

Under the guidance of the film director Zhang Yimou, the three-hour ceremony will begin at 8pm on the eighth day of the eighth month of 2008 – eight is a lucky number here.

It will end with the lighting of the Olympic flame, though nobody knows how that will be done.

There is no sign of a cauldron on the steel structures of the iconic "Bird's Nest" Stadium, the focal point of the dazzling array of new facilities that have been built here.

Despite worldwide protests over China hosting the Games because of its human rights record, about 80 heads of state, including George Bush, Vladimir Putin and Nicolas Sarkozy, will join 91,000 spectators at the ceremony.

With Gordon Brown flying in for the closing ceremony, the British Government will be represented today by Tessa Jowell, the 2012 Olympics Minister.

The order of countries in the parade will be dictated by Chinese characters rather than European alphabets. Attempts to persuade South and North Korea to march as one, as they did in 2000 and 2004, have failed because the two governments were unable to reach agreement.

Security will be intense and the weather is likely to be the biggest threat to the smooth running of the opening ceremony.

The last week has been dominated by concerns over the smog that continued to hang over the city yesterday, but the problem could now be rain, which is forecast to be falling for the next few days.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

Tribal gathering

Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
10 best trays

Get carried away with 10 best trays

Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created