The Beijing Olympics are officially under way after lengthy and colorful opening ceremonies at the National Stadium, known as "The Bird's Nest." VOA Sports Editor Parke Brewer is in Beijing and has a report.

China is known for its fireworks and what a display it was. Among the pyrotechnics interspersed throughout the ceremonies were 29 so-called "footprints" rising into the sky, to represent the 29 times the Olympic games have been held, and a huge finale.

The ceremonies took place on a hot and muggy night. The program mixed China's ancient history and culture with elements showcasing the modern face of the country. The two parts of the ceremony were titled "Brilliant Civilization" and "Glorious Era."

Participants were dressed in some 15-thousand costumes in 47 styles. More than 25-hundred special lights were used, and some of the special effects were dreamlike and almost magical.

The traditional Parade of Athletes followed the 70-minute show. Each country's athletes entered the stadium in the order set by the number of strokes in the simplified Chinese characters that spell out the names of the 205 national Olympic committees. By tradition, however, the Greek team was first and host China entered last.

Basketball superstar Yao Ming carried the Chinese flag.

Team USA entered 140th and members wore blue blazers with white pants and white driving caps. President Bush and his wife Laura were among the capacity crowd of 91-thousand in the stadium. He is the first sitting U.S. president to attend an Olympics outside the United States.

International Olympic Committee chief Jacques Rogge said he knew how much hosting these games mean to China. "For a long time, China has dreamed of opening its doors and inviting the world's athletes to Beijing for the Olympic Games. Tonight that dream comes true. Congratulations Beijing," he said.

Chinese president Hu Jintao then officially declared the opening of the Beijing Olympic Games, saying in Mandarin: "I now declare the 29th Summer Olympics in Beijing Open."

Three-time gold medal Chinese gymnast Li Ning lit the cauldron in an amazing spectacle that had him dangling from cables in a simulated run around the top inner portion of the stadium.

With the Parade of Athletes taking some two hours, the entire ceremonies lasted more than four hours and did not end until after midnight.