9 Aug 2008

2008 Olympic Games officially open

5:44 am on 9 August 2008

The 2008 Olympic Games are officially open after a massive ceremony at China's new national stadium in Beijing.

The three hour event opened with a spectacular display of dancing, music and fireworks involving 15,000 performers, in front of 90,000 fans in the new stadium. The venue is known as the Bird's Nest because of its steel lattice construction.

The show was followed by a parade of the teams from the 205 countries taking part. New Zealand athletes were led by rower Mahe Drysdale.

The opening ceremony began at 8.08pm on 8 August, 2008, reflecting a belief widespread in Asia that eight is a lucky number.

China's President Hu Jintao officially declared the Games open.

Champion gymnast Li Ning lit the Olympic cauldron with the the Olympic torch. He was winched up to the rim of the stadium to the cauldron and an explosion of fireworks ensued.

The event took seven years to plan, at an estimated cost at $US40 billion.

International Olympics committee head Jacques Rogge congratulated China and urged athletes to shun doping.