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The Winter Games have begun. See photos and highlights from the opening ceremony

A firework display is seen during the opening ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics at the Beijing National Stadium on Friday.
Catherine Ivill
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Getty Images
A firework display is seen during the opening ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics at the Beijing National Stadium on Friday.

Updated February 4, 2022 at 11:58 AM ET

BEIJING — Chinese organizers put on an eye-catching, if subdued, opening ceremony on Friday to officially begin the 2022 Winter Olympics.

It was the second time Beijing hosted an Olympic opening ceremony. On Friday, it made history as the first city to host both a Summer and a Winter Games.

As in 2008, China held the opening ceremony in Beijing's open-air National Stadium, also called the Bird's Nest. On Friday night, temperatures hovered around 25 degrees Fahrenheit in the stadium.

The Games' mascot, Bing Dwen Dwen, is seen during the opening ceremony.
Lintao Zhang / Getty Images
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Getty Images
The Games' mascot, Bing Dwen Dwen, is seen during the opening ceremony.

Compared to the 2008 spectacular, Friday's event was noticeably toned down — likely due in part to COVID-19 — and shortened to about two hours and 20 minutes.

The ceremony's organizers sought to emphasize togetherness — notably at a time when much of the world is very much apart due to the coronavirus pandemic. That separation stretches to the actual Games — which is occurring within a closed loop. Severe restrictions on athletes, media and other personnel require social distancing, mask-wearing and daily testing.

The Chinese national flag is raised during the Winter Games' opening ceremony at the National Stadium, known as the Bird's Nest.
Lillian Suwanrumpha / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
The Chinese national flag is raised during the Winter Games' opening ceremony at the National Stadium, known as the Bird's Nest.
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Beijing.
Anthony Wallace / Getty Images
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Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Beijing.

Beijing organizers brought in thousands of local residents to fill at least half of the stadium during the ceremony.

China's President Xi Jinping was joined by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who he met with earlier in the day.

Putin's presence offered a needed ally for China at a time when the nation continues to be dogged over criticism for its human rights record.

Absent Friday night were diplomats from the U.S. government, Great Britain, and other nations. They've labeled the treatment of China's Uyghur minority as cultural genocide.

Performers take part in the opening ceremony.
Antonin Thuillier / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
Performers take part in the opening ceremony.

The International Olympic Committee, which faced its own criticism for holding the Games during a pandemic again, has maintained it will remain politically neutral.

Last summer, during the Tokyo Olympics, demonstrators gathered outside the opening ceremony arena, protesting Japan hosting the event during the pandemic.

No such protest occurred Friday night anywhere near the Bird's Nest stadium. Surrounding city streets were blocked off, in part due to the closed loop the Olympics are operating under, and due to the city's serious security measures in light of opening night.

Flag bearers Brittany Bowe and John Shuster lead Team USA during the opening ceremony.
Alex Pantling / Getty Images
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Flag bearers Brittany Bowe and John Shuster lead Team USA during the opening ceremony.

U.S. flag bearer felled by coronavirus

The pandemic reality outside of the closed-loop was not addressed in the evening's performances though some dignitaries, at times the dancers, and athletes wore masks.

The highlight of the evening was the 3,000 or so dancers in colorful costumes. The performers — a fraction of the 15,000 performers during the 2008 festivities — were nearly entirely made up of teenagers.

Despite their youth and the evening's biting cold, China's dancers executed precise, high-energy choreography throughout the night, particularly during the nearly hour-long parade of athletes.

Performers dance during the opening ceremony.
Matthias Hangst / Getty Images
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Getty Images
Performers dance during the opening ceremony.

The parade of athletes, which kicked off with Greece, made up most of the night's ceremony.

The path to getting to Friday night was a difficult one for each of the athletes marching. Each competitor that entered China had to follow a strict 21-day quarantine if they were unvaccinated. Vaccinated athletes still had to test negative on multiple coronavirus tests before coming.

Regardless of vaccination, some athletes tested positive after entering China --forcing them to be placed in isolation until they can test negative.

Members of the U.S. delegation pose for photos as they take part in the parade of athletes during the opening ceremony.
Ben Stansall / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
Members of the U.S. delegation pose for photos as they take part in the parade of athletes during the opening ceremony.

Veteran bobsledder Elana Meyers Taylor, who was meant to be a flagbearer for the U.S. during the opening ceremony, is still in isolation after testing positive two days after arriving in Beijing. Speed skater Brittany Bowe filled in for her and walked alongside John Shuster, a curler whose team won a surprise gold medal four years ago in Pyeongchang.

The 2022 Beijing Winter Games will continue until Feb. 20.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Performers participate in the opening ceremony.
Ben Stansall / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
Performers participate in the opening ceremony.
Zhihuan Luo, Hui Zhang, Jiajun Li, Xue Shen, Xiaopeng Han and Hong Zhang carry the Olympic flag during the opening ceremony.
Adam Pretty / Getty Images
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Getty Images
Zhihuan Luo, Hui Zhang, Jiajun Li, Xue Shen, Xiaopeng Han and Hong Zhang carry the Olympic flag during the opening ceremony.
Performers take part in the opening ceremony at the Bird's Nest.
Manan Vatsyana / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
Performers take part in the opening ceremony at the Bird's Nest.
Performers prepare for the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games, at the National Stadium, known as the Bird's Nest, in Beijing, on February 4, 2022.
Manan Vatsyana / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
Performers prepare for the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games, at the National Stadium, known as the Bird's Nest, in Beijing, on February 4, 2022.
Performers dance during the opening ceremony in Beijing.
Lintao Zhang / Getty Images
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Getty Images
Performers dance during the opening ceremony in Beijing.
Flag bearer Nathan Crumpton of Team American Samoa marches during the parade of athletes at the opening ceremony.
Catherine Ivill / Getty Images
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Getty Images
Flag bearer Nathan Crumpton of Team American Samoa marches during the parade of athletes at the opening ceremony.
Members of Team China are seen during the opening ceremony in Beijing.
Maddie Meyer / Getty Images
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Getty Images
Members of Team China are seen during the opening ceremony in Beijing.
Members of the Canadian Olympic team wave during the opening ceremony.
David Ramos / Getty Images
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Members of the Canadian Olympic team wave during the opening ceremony.
A large snowflake symbol is seen during a performance at the opening ceremony.
Maddie Meyer / Getty Images
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Getty Images
A large snowflake symbol is seen during a performance at the opening ceremony.
Torch bearers light the Olympic cauldron during the opening ceremony in Beijing.
David Ramos / Getty Images
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Getty Images
Torch bearers light the Olympic cauldron during the opening ceremony in Beijing.

Corrected: February 3, 2022 at 11:00 PM CST
An earlier version of this story said China has made history as the first country to host both the Summer and Winter Games. It should have said that Beijing was the first city to host both.
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