Olympic Flame Lights Up Unique Snowflake-Shaped Cauldron as Winter Games Begin in Beijing

Six Chinese athletes from multiple generations brought the Olympic flame through its final journey at Beijing's National Stadium

Beijing 2022 – Opening Ceremony
Photo: MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP via Getty Images

The Olympic flame has made it to its new resting spot as the 2022 Winter Games kick off in Beijing.

Accompanied by six different Chinese athletes born in each generation since the 1950s, the Olympic torch was carried through the Beijing National Stadium during Friday's Opening Ceremony before being placed in a giant snowflake made up of smaller snowflakes bearing the names of every participating country.

The snowflake — which was suspended in the air after the torch was placed inside of it — replaced a traditional Olympic cauldron used at Games past.

Zhao Weichang, Li Yan, Yang Yang, Su Bingtian, and Zhou Yang — all Chinese athletes who have competed in at least one Winter or Summer Games — were the torchbearers. The final torchbearers were current Team China athletes Dinigeer Yilamujiang, (who has Uyghur heritage, an assumed response from organizers to controversy over reported human rights violations), and Zhao Jiawen.

Beijing 2022 – Opening Ceremony
Dinigeer Yilamujiang and Jiawen Zhao. Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

The torch relay leading up to the Opening Ceremony was shortened to only three days due to COVID-19 concerns. It began last Sunday with China's first international speed skater Luo Zhihuan running the first leg at the Olympic Forest Park, the Associated Press reported.

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The torch made its way through three Olympic zones, beginning with downtown Beijing, continuing to Yanqing district before going to Zhangjiakou in the neighboring Hebei Province, according to NBC News.

The scaled-down relay featured 135 torchbearers, including former NBA player Yao Ming, actor Jackie Chan, and Ma Long, a five-time men's table tennis Olympic gold medalist. Zhang Yimou, the director of this year's Opening Ceremony, was also selected to carry the torch.

NBC News reported that all participants were required to undergo health screenings and be monitored for two weeks prior to taking part in the relay.

The spiral Beijing 2022 torch, named "Flying," was designed to honor the host city which is the only place to have held both a Summer and a Winter Olympic Games. It is reminiscent of the 2008 Beijing Summer Games torch, the official Olympic website reports.

With the emblem of Beijing 2022 in the center, "the whirling red line on its body represents the winding Great Wall, the skiing courses at the Games, and mankind's relentless pursuit of light, peace, and excellence," according to the site. Additionally, the torch's red and silver colors are metaphors for ice and fire.

"By using the same color combination and by sharing similar artistic elements with the 2008 torch, we aim to extend auspicious greetings to the world as we did at the Summer Games and to showcase Beijing's rich Olympic culture," designer Li Jianye said, according to Olympics.com.

The torch also allowed the bearers to exchange the flame by connecting the two torches via ribbons which symbolize Beijing 2022's vision to promote mutual understanding and respect between different cultures, Olympics.com said.

This year's event is considerably smaller than the global relay for Beijing's 2008 Summer Games which was interrupted by protests against China's ongoing human rights violations, according to Reuters.

The kickoff of the Beijing Games follows the start of the Chinese Lunar New Year on Tuesday which is traditionally the biggest annual celebration in China.

This year's Games are happening in a bubble to keep competitors and personnel away from the public to mitigate the spread of the COVID. Events will only be attended by a limited audience.

To learn more about all the Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls, visit TeamUSA.org. Watch the Winter Olympics, beginning Feb 3, and the Paralympics, beginning March 4, on NBC.

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