BEIJING (Reuters) – A snowflake instead of a huge cauldron and a “micro-flame” in place of a roaring fire at the opening ceremony for the Winter Olympics were an “innovation” celebrating the human spirit, the ceremony’s director said on Saturday.
Fans watching the climactic moment of Friday’s start of the Beijing 2022 Games were left wondering where the usually dramatic burst of flame was, when the final torchbearers placed the lit torch on a large snowflake-shaped metal structure without any further ignition and it was lifted into the air.
The faint flame reflected unity and the original aspiration of human beings, said Zhang Yimou.
“The cauldron and the lighting process have surprised many people. I think this is an innovation,” the film director, who also directed the Beijing 2008 Summer Games ceremonies, told a press briefing.
Unlike in past Games, where the fire in the cauldron remains a conspicuous symbol of the Olympics throughout the competitions, this flame was so small that even some in the stadium struggled to spot it.
At the 2008 Games, a large cauldron rose above the rim of the stadium for people to see from far away.
“The micro-flame shows that even a little spark can start a prairie fire. This is the original aspiration of human beings and the Olympics spirit,” Zhang said.
The giant snowflake comprises 91 small flakes representing the 91 competing nations and regions, Zhang said, “as if the entire world is carefully protecting the flame”.
Zhang said the “micro-flame” also conveyed a low-carbon and environmental-friendly idea, with China having pledged to stage a green Games.
Beijing Olympic organisers have said all torches used at the Games were made from carbon fibre materials and fuelled by hydrogen.
Reactions were mixed among Chinese internet users.
“I cannot approve this arrangement. (The cauldron) is nothing rare. And because it’s visually too small, it has lost its solemn status in people’s heart,” wrote user “uncle without ambition” on China’s Twitter-like Weibo social media platform.
Others appreciated the design and thought the cauldron was the show’s highlight.
“I like this kind of low-keyed expression. It is a full expression of self-confidence. Today’s China has the qualification and confidence to change the inherent rules,” wrote “Weifengluoluolan” online.
The Olympic flame will be burning at the three competition zones – Beijing, Yanqing and Zhangjiakou – for the limited number of visitors to see.
(Reporting by Muyu Xu and Tony Munroe; Editing by William Mallard)