Goodness me. To think they used to just cut a ribbon.

Beijing's opening ceremony felt like a semi-religious rave, helmed by Cecil B DeMille, Leni Riefenstahl and late-era Pet Shop Boys and with music supplied by Vangelis and Jean-Michel Jarre.

Like any decent opening shebang, the night was soaked in the sort of nightmarish weirdness that most of us only experience after eating too much soft cheese late at night.

Luminous green men dotted with bright white lightbulbs zoomed around like radioactive fish, coming together to form dove shapes and then clambering all over each other to form a human scale model of the stadium.

Astronauts descended from the sky on invisible wires as a gigantic version of an Ikea lampshade rose from an underground pit like an alien spaceship.

Men with giant paintbrushes on their heads smeared Chinese characters on a paper scroll the size of an Olympic swimming pool.

Then, just when the mind was at its weakest, Sarah Brightman floated into view with a moon-faced grin spread across her chops.

Some of us had been wondering beforehand how a woman who most of us hadn't seen since 1987 had managed to nab such a prestigious gig. Happily the official programme put us straight.Green men light up the stadium

"She perfectly integrates elegance and purity with fashion and ease," we were told. "Giving the audience a brand new feeling."

Dressed in a flowing white robe, she glided onto stage and warbled a happy duet with Chinese pop star Liu Huan, who looked like he'd just stepped out of a snooker club. The crowd loved it.

Brightman herself looked somehow younger than she had 20 years ago. So smooth-skinned was she that you couldn't help but wonder if she'd recently been starring in the Phantom of the Operating Theatre.

There was more, not least the way the Olympic flag was carried in by eight dental technicians and then flapped around atop its pole as if a gale were blowing, when there hasn't been a breath of wind for days.

Then, when the athletes themselves finally arrived, led by the Greek team, they were greeted by the sound of the Main of Fintry Pipe Band playing Scotland The Brave on the bagpipes. Work that one out.

Of the 204 nations subsequently on display, particular mention should go to the following:

5. The Germans with deflated handballs on their heads.
4. Tajikistan's beige and chocolate-brown blazers, which looked like the sort of thing Michael Caine might have worn to Tramp in 1974.
3. The Argentine men's stripey shower caps.
2. The blue and yellow blazer and tie combo worn by the Ukraine, as if they were on their way to a night out at School Disco.
1. The Hungarian women wearing dresses made from my mum's bathroom curtains.

Reaction from the crowd
- particularly when the Chinese team piled in, led by the towering Yao Ming - was predictably rapturous.

Up in the VIP slots, President Bush took off his jacket and utilised a weighty pair of binoculars to get a better look at the action. Vladimir Putin almost smiled. Princess Anne fanned herself and looked calmly impressed.Fireworks at the climax of the opening ceremony

Only IOC president Jacques Rogge, strangely, didn't seem to be enjoying himself. For most of the night he wore the expression of man chewing stinging nettles.

For the rest of us, it was almost impossible not to get caught up in the spectacle of it all.

The assault on the senses was such that you were swept you along relentlessly, even when the logical part of your brain was cringing at the goose-stepping soldiers holding the Olympic flag, the world's leaders fawning over Chinese president Hu Jintao and the enormous military helicopter that circled overhead for the entire four hours.

This was chest-beating on an epic scale.

It was spectacular. It was explosive. It was unforgettable.

In front of an estimated television audience of 4bn people, it was also the biggest PR exercise China could ever have hoped for. Even the Olympic cauldron was wrapped in a red flag.

Forget the pollution and the human rights issues, seemed to be the message - let's have some pretty fireworks instead.

As green, blue, red and white torches flashed all round the stands, and 2008 identically-clothed men hammered incandescent drums on the stadium floor, two thoughts went through my head.

Firstly - blimey. How is London going to match this? And at same time, what's any of this got to do with sport?

Tom Fordyce is a BBC Sport journalist covering a wide range of events in Beijing. Our FAQs should answer any questions you have.


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