The 28th Olympiad has officially opened in Athens, Greece, the birthplace of the games nearly 2800 years ago.
A record 202 national delegations marched during the opening ceremony Friday. About 75,000 spectators inside the main Olympic Stadium and estimated 4.5 billion watching on television around the world saw more than 8000 performers invoking Greek mythology, civilization and culture. The ceremonies also traced an epic circle in sports, from the games' 19th century rebirth in Athens to the latest gathering of 10,500 athletes.
The Olympic flame, lit in ancient Olympia on March 25, covered nearly 78,000 kilometers on five continents on its way to the ceremony. It will burn throughout the games atop a 30 meter tall tapered column resembling the torch used in the worldwide relay.
Spectators participated in the main ceremony by clapping and using flashlights and bells when signaled. The Icelandic singer Bjork was one of the night's headliners.
The extravaganza was a victory for Greek organizers, who managed to pull together the 2004 Games despite serious construction delays, worldwide skepticism. Terrorist worries pushed the security price tag to the most expensive in Olympic history at $1.5 billion and required help from NATO and other nations.
Greek taxpayers are watching both with pride and anxiety. Officials say the total cost of the games will exceed $7.2 billion, and some analysts say it could hit a staggering $12 billion.
The opening of the Athens Games marks the debut Olympic appearance of competitors from the sprinkling of Pacific atolls known as Kiribati, and the return of Afghanistan after an eight-year absence, with Afghan women participating for the first time.
The football tournament kicked off on Wednesday while the full schedule of events begins Saturday. The Olympics will conclude on August 29.