China Photos, Getty Images
A man sports "2008" glasses in front of Olympics countdown clock in Tiananmen Square. The opening ceremony is tonight (08/08/08) at 8:08 Beijing time. Eight is a lucky number for the Chinese.

BEIJING — Let the Games begin already.

With the 2008 Beijing Olympics nearing its official start with today's opening ceremony at National Stadium, everybody seems anxious and on edge.

Cramming the massive Main Press Center with nowhere to go until the events begin, Chinese and international journalists have grown tired of being amateur weather prognosticators and makeshift air-quality experts this week.

Looking for any kind of angle or quote, they've interviewed, filmed and photographed each other plenty the past few days and are anxious to start tailing sporting-event storylines.

Beijing and the entire People's Republic of China seemingly can't wait for the formalities, having been teased with three dress rehearsals in 10 days and flooded by a never-before-seen tidal wave of Olympic signage throughout the city of 18 million people and the nation populated by 1.3 billion.

As proof that the host country is bursting with patriotic pride, flag industry representatives report sales of national flags in China is 30 times higher than its normal average.

Even expectant mothers can't wait for the start of the Games. In some parts of the country, pregnant Chinese women are so anxious to bear an "Olympics" baby that they've been rushing to book Caesarean-section births for today — some as long as three months early to give the child a memorable birth date.

While a few preliminary soccer matches got off to an early start this week in Shanghai, Tianjin, Qinghuangdao and Shenyang, Beijing itself is ready to begin.

The date and time selected for China's first-ever opening ceremony comes by no coincidence. With the number "eight" considered a lucky number in Chinese culture, the Opening Ceremony will start at 8:08 p.m. local time on a date that can be written 08-08-08.

And some of that luck seemingly is starting to play out. Just a few days ago, weather forecasts projected a 41 percent chance of rain tonight, worrying ceremony officials; now, predictions are for partly cloudy to cloudy skies through the night.

As if the 3 1/2-hour opening ceremony isn't enough, it will be preceded by a pre-show from 5:45 to 7 p.m., featuring 28 performances with regional and ethnic themes.

Beginning with the beating of an ancient Chinese drum and including performers such as China's own Liu Huan, Taiwan's Jay Chou, British soprano Sarah Brightman and Canadian diva Celine Dion, the opening ceremony will be televised to an estimated global audience of 4 billion.

The main event features a brief welcoming and an hourlong artistic performance — broken into two segments called "Beautiful Olympics" and "Magnificent Civilization" — showcasing China's history, diversity, achievements and development.

Some 15,000 performers are scheduled to participate, including professional artists, students and members of China's combined military forces, the People's Liberation Army.

Entering country by country, the parade of some 10,000 athletes from a record 205 countries will follow Olympic tradition with Greece — home to the ancient Games — entering as the first national contingent and host China as the finale.

However, the rest of the nations will enter in order of how many strokes are required to write the characters of the country's Chinese name, from fewest to most.

And with China proud of its heritage as the origin of fireworks, the opening ceremony will conclude with a massive fireworks display, with some 15,000 shells to be fired above National Stadium and another 14,000 throughout the surrounding Olympic Green.


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