Beijing, Aug 8: The countdown has begun for the gala opening of the Olympic Games 2008, the world's ultimate sporting competition, on Friday.
The 24th Olympiad will officially open, firing the starting gun at 8:08 p.m. local time (5:38 p.m. IST) on the 8th day of the 8th month of the year 08, considered auspicious by the Chinese. Organising the Games for the first time, China is all set to showcase its brilliance as a host and sports superpower. By putting man-power and machinery in place for a gigantic project costing 40 billion US dollars, it is bound to enhance its image as a country that is fast opening out to the world, yet retains its mystique.
The only drawback could be China"s inability to clear the atmosphere of pollution, despite trying everything that it could.
Over the next 16 days, more than 10,500 of the best international athletes will compete for the 302 gold medals up for grabs across 28 sports.
A spectacular fireworks display will mark the occasion. Besides the main Bird''s Nest stadium -- the National Stadium, that has 36 kilometres of steel inter-twined as twigs, for breathtaking architecture, fireworks of different shapes would be set off over the Olympic Forest Park and a section of the Great Wall.
While hundreds of athletes are anxious to carry their National flag in the opening ceremony, Indian contingent will be led by the flag-bearer Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore.
Hoping for its first gold medal in the last seven editions, gight-time gold medallist India has slipped so badly in hockey that it does not figure this time around. The onus will be on the shooters, the boxers, the archers and tennis aces Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi, to take that small step up from the silver medal in Athens.
Besides Beijing, Qingdao will hold the sailing competition, Hong Kong will be the location for the equestrian events, and football will be played in Tianjin, Shanghai, Shenyang and Qinhuangdao.
The closing ceremony will bring down the curtain on August 24 before the Paralympic Games take over from September 6-17.
Meantime, Congress President Sonia Gandhi is here along with her family to witness the opening ceremony of the Olympics at the invitation of the Communist Party of China (CPC). Later, the Congress party and the CPC agreed to promote regular exchanges.
All India Congress Committee (AICC) General Secretary Rahul Gandhi and Minister at the International Department of the CPC Wang Jia Rui signed an MoU in this regard.
On Thursday, Sonia had a 30-minute meeting with Chinese Vice-President Xi Jinping, who is likely to succeed President Hu Jintao, at the Great Hall of the People. She praised the "organising genius" of the Chinese people, who have made stupendous efforts to hold the Olympic Games in Beijing.
The Gandhi family and other members of the delegation, including Minister of state for External Affairs Anand Sharma, and Sports Minister M S Gill will be attending the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games.