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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Michael Phelps: To a naked eye, Milorad Cavic won — 10th anniversary of Beijing butterfly

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So many onlookers thought Milorad Cavic beat Michael Phelps in the Beijing Olympic 100m butterfly. Even Phelps himself.

“To a naked eye, he won the race,” Phelps said in an Omega documentary first published in 2016.

The 10th anniversary of that final — which Phelps won by .01 on a come-from-behind, half-stroke finish — is Wednesday night in the U.S./Thursday morning in China.

It marked Phelps’ seventh gold medal of those Games en route to his final tally of eight, breaking Mark Spitz‘s record for golds at a single Games. But it wasn’t without a little controversy.

Years later, Cavic jabbed again about the results that his Serbian federation unsuccessfully protested in Beijing.

“I don’t necessarily feel like it was an injustice,” the Serbian said in the 2016 film. “Mistakes were made on my side. There were things that I could have done better which would have made it a definite victory for myself, but my gut instinct is that I won.”

Cavic was arguably the favorite on the morning of the final. He broke the Olympic record in the preliminary heats, then was again faster than Phelps in the semifinals, when Phelps was coming off a 200m individual medley final.

After the semifinal, Phelps remembered walking down a Water Cube back hallway with coach Bob Bowman after the 15th of 17 total races.

“I said, ‘I’m done. I don’t have any more energy left. I’m cashed,'” Phelps said. “To put it bluntly, [Bowman] said tough s—. You’ve got a couple races to go, and you can suck it up.”

But Phelps was fired up by Cavic’s comments before the race, that it would be good for the sport if Phelps lost in Beijing. He woke up that morning and was on the starting block in lane five, right next to Cavic looking at him in lane four.

“What does a man do when the devil smiles at him? You smile back,” Cavic said. “It was a religious moment for me because I knew I was destined for this day.”

The race went out as expected, with Cavic leading at 50 meters and Phelps in seventh at the turn.

“I watched the NBC coverage of it, and [analyst] Rowdy [Gaines] was pretty much saying that I’m fighting for a silver medal,” Phelps said. “I knew [Cavic] always struggles the last 15 meters. That’s kind of my chance.”

In the last strokes, Phelps felt Cavic’s splash more and more into his own face. He was inching closer and closer. Then that last stroke. Cavic came up a bit short and glided into the wall. Phelps was even shorter, so he took one more partial stroke, slamming his fingers into the wall.

“If I were to take another full stroke, my arms would actually be at the halfway point of my stroke, with my face hitting the wall,” Cavic said. “He knew that he was behind me, and he knew that if he also had a long finish as I did, he would have lost. So his only option was to take another stroke but make it a half-stroke. It’s not textbook. It’s not something any coach ever wants to you to do.”

Phelps said that when he took the last half-stroke rather than a perfect finish, he thought that had cost him the gold. Each man turned around and stared at the scoreboard.

“The lack of oxygen in your body and in your head, it makes things very, very blurry for your eyes,” Cavic said. “It takes a couple of moments just for everything to clear up.”

“I looked back, and I saw one one-hundredth,” Phelps said, “and I was like, holy s—, that just happened.”

As for the Serbian protest and Cavic’s doubts?

“Well, the results don’t lie,” Phelps said. “That’s all I got to say. … Seeing the [Sports Illustrated] frame-by-frame and watching it in slow-mo, there’s no question in my mind that I won the race.”

That silver was Cavic’s one and only Olympic medal in four Games.

“I will be remembered,” he said. “It was the best and worst thing that happened to me.”

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Kayla Harrison set for second MMA fight at PFL 6; TV, stream info

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Double Olympic judo champion Kayla Harrison returns to the cage for her second MMA bout at a Professional Fighters League event in Atlantic City, N.J., live on NBC Sports on Thursday night.

Harrison, 28, faces Jozette Cotton (8-1-0) at 155 pounds on the PFL 6 card.

NBCSN coverage starts at 10 p.m. ET, also streaming on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app.

Harrison, who converted to MMA after the Rio Olympics, won her MMA debut on June 21, forcing Brittney Elkin to submit via arm bar after 3 minutes, 18 seconds, of the five-minute first round.

“I was wicked nervous,” the Massachusetts native said afterward. “This is all so new. No one has ever locked me in a cage and said, go kill someone. … I can’t wait until the next one.”

LIVE STREAM: Kayla Harrison at PFL 6 — Thursday, 10 p.m. ET

Harrison announced in October 2016 that she joined the MMA promotion as a commentator and brand ambassador, but not necessarily a fighter. A year ago, Harrison said she would compete.

The comparisons to former judo training partner and Olympic bronze medalist Ronda Rousey have shadowed her for years.

They won’t stop after Harrison won her first bout using Rousey’s signature arm bar.

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