Beijing Olympic Opening Ceremony remembered on 10th anniversary

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It began with 2,008 drummers and ended with a gravity-defying cauldron lighting.

The Beijing Olympic Opening Ceremony, which took place 10 years ago today, was billed as having the scope and available resources to make it an unprecedented event, a coming-out party for the new China.

“For a long time, China has dreamed of opening its doors and inviting the world’s athletes to Beijing for the Olympic Games,” IOC president Jacques Rogge said in his speech that night. “Tonight, that dream comes true.”

The finished product met the promotion. More recent Opening Ceremonies have not dared to aspire for the boldness of Beijing.

Acclaimed film director Zhang Yimou directed the three-and-a-half-hour show at the Bird’s Nest, the iconic Olympic Stadium that would later become the playground for Usain Bolt.

The first Olympics hosted by the world’s most populous nation broke records for most athletes (10,942), nations (204) and events (302), along with the budget (a reported $40 billion, more than twice the previous record).

Some 15,000 performers in all welcomed the world’s athletes in front of more than 90,000 spectators. It began with a countdown, the flashing numbers on the stadium floor illuminated by drummers — 2,008 in all — that set the tone for an unforgettable evening.

The flag bearers ranged from basketball megastars. German Dirk Nowitzki had the Olympic rings shaved into the side of his hair, and Yao Ming led the Chinese delegation marching last, accompanied by 9-year-old Lin Hao, who had survived the May 2008 Sichuan Province earthquake that claimed nearly 70,000 lives.

The flag bearers included athletes who were not Olympians, like boxers Manny Pacquiao (Philippines) and Alexis Argüello (Nicaragua). As well as American Lopez Lomong, one of the “Lost Boys” of Sudan, who came to the U.S. in 2001 and ran the 1500m at the Games.

In the stands, George W. Bush became the first sitting U.S. president to attend an Olympics abroad, according to The Associated Press.

The night ended with Li Ning, the six-time 1984 Olympic gymnastics medalist turned clothing entrepreneur, ascending via cable wires to the top of the stadium, taking a lap around its embryonic inner wall and lighting the cauldron.

The 16 days of medal competition that followed were also among the greatest in Olympic history, from Michael Phelps‘ pursuit of eight gold medals to USA Basketball’s Redeem Team to Bolt’s jaw-dropping sprints.

The Bird’s Nest is expected to host the Opening Ceremony for the next Winter Olympics in 2022, when Beijing will become the first city to hold a Summer and Winter Olympics.

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MORE: Olympic Channel marks 10th anniversary of Beijing Olympics

Hirscher leads by 0.56 seconds after first run in World Champs slalom

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Marcel Hirscher swept into the finish area and wagged his finger triumphantly in front of the camera.

The message was clear: The ski king is back.

The Austrian produced an emphatic response to relinquishing his giant slalom title two days earlier at the world championships by taking a 0.56-second lead after the first run of the slalom on Sunday.

Only Alexis Pinturault of France was within a second of Hirscher, who was on course to win a record-tying seventh career gold medal at the worlds.

Marco Schwarz of Austria was in third place, 1.22 seconds off the lead.

Hirscher, the seven-time overall World Cup champion, showed no ill-effects from the cold that has been affecting him this week. After the giant slalom on Friday, he said he would be going straight back to bed to rest up for the slalom.

He looked in good working order on Sunday.

As the third skier on the course, Hirscher took 1.70 seconds off No. 2 starter Henrik Kristoffersen, who beat Hirscher to GS gold on Friday, and more than two seconds off Clement Noel, who came to the worlds in form after wins in Wengen and Kitzbuehel.

Save for Hirscher crashing, only Pinturault looks capable to denying the Austrian a third slalom gold at the worlds — something only the great Ingemar Stenmark has achieved. Pinturault was only 0.06 seconds behind Hirscher at the third checkpoint but he went wide at the first turn on the final descent and lost half a second.

“I’m still in the fight,” Pinturault said, “and still have a chance in the second leg. That’s the essential (thing).”

Daniel Yule of Switzerland was 0.28 behind Hirscher at the last split before falling at the start to the final descent.

Hirscher also won the slalom at the 2013 and 2017 worlds. A seventh career gold at the worlds would tie the men’s record held by compatriot Toni Sailer from the late 1950s.

Austria, a storied Alpine skiing nation, needs Hirscher to deliver in the final event to avoid finishing the world championships without a gold medal for the first time since Crans Montana, Switzerland, in 1987. The women’s team has already finished with no medals and that hasn’t happened since Schladming, Austria, in 1982.

Watch an encore presentation of the first run on NBCSN at 7:00 a.m. ET. The second and deciding run can be seen live starting at 8:00 a.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Gold.

Mikaela Shiffrin proving she’s in league of her own

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There are ski racers, and then there is Mikaela Shiffrin.

NBC Sports essayist Tim Layden calls Shiffrin the “rarest creature,” a prodigy who continues to get better with age.

Shiffrin’s stardom took off with her heart-stopping slalom gold medal in the 2014 Olympics. It looked like she would ascend to an even higher level four years later in PyeongChang when she claimed a gold medal in the giant slalom, but then she lost a battle with her nerves and failed to win a medal in the slalom. She did capture a silver in the combined event.

That Olympic disappointment has fueled her historic World Cup season. She became the youngest skier to pass the 50 win mark. She broke the women’s career record for slalom victories, and she became the first skier ever to win four-straight world championship titles in a single event.

A true prodigy indeed.