Beijing 2008 has begun!
I was present at the stadium and it was amazing to see the four-hour opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics concluding in a spectacular move of Li Ning, the former China gymnast, running on the roo of the Bird's Nest Stadium to light a giant Olympic flame.
Absolutely incredible as it was, the torch's journey to Beijing had been highly controversial, with demonstrations in London and other cities over China's human rights record in Tibet, but there were no disruptions to a stunning visual show which, if nothing else, has raised the bar extremely high for the London 2012 opening ceremony.
Thousand pounding drums of 2008 People's Liberation Army soldiers had signalled the start of a ceremony which captured all the messianic ambition and no expense-spared scale of China's first Olympic Games.
While protestors in many different metropolies aroud the world mounted protests against China's human rights record, inside the Bird's Nest a crowd of 90,000 including dozens of world leaders witnessed lighting tricks, dancing, music and fireworks either side of a lengthy parade of athletes.
The show featured flying acrobats and a giant 16-tonne globe rising from the ground - although not a single panda - in what might best be described as a breathtaking and brilliantly choreographed irrelevance which came to a jaw-dropping climax when Li Ning was winched high above the crowd to run around the vertical upper wall of the stadium before lighting the olympic flame.
More that $30 billion has been spent by the host nation to try to show off China's emergence as a world power through these Games. As with the venues and infrastructure, the opening ceremony aspired to be the biggest and the best to date.
In fact, the Chinese President Hu Jintao, his American counterpart George Bush, Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin and France president Nicolas Sarkozy were among the dignitaries who watched around 14,000 performers, 9,000 of them soldiers, drum and dance through the ceremony masterminded by Zhang Yimou, director of the film House of Flying Daggers, with cinematic verve. Great Britain was represented by Tessa Jowell, the Olympics minister. We can also confirm that Gordon Brown is coming to the closing ceremony.
There was really tight security around the amazing stadium, with road closures and a suspension of flights at Beijing's main airport. The main event, like the Cirque du Soleil on steroids, appeared to pass without incident. The rain also stayed away although there was stifling humidity.
In the seemingly never-ending parade of athletes - the 204 competing nations range from the Chinese hosts, with a record 639 athletes, to tiny Tuvalu, the Pacific Island, with just three competitors - the Great Britain team was led by Mark Foster, the 38-year-old swimmer. In fact, some of the British athletes stayed away because their events start tomorrow (Saturday) but Andy Murray, the talented tennis player, and Tom Daley, the 14-year-old diver, were among the majority who did attend.
We can say that the home fanatics were really generous with their welcome, with big cheers for Iraq and, surprisingly, the USA team. The biggest roar came when Yao Ming, the giant China basketball star, led in the hosts. And once Li Ning had finished his incredible sky-walk, the athletes could go back for a shower, bed and to prepare for the business of competition. The Games has begun!