BEIJING — Chinese organizers staged a subdued opening ceremony Friday to officially start the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Beijing hosted the Olympic opening ceremony for only the second time. It became the first city in history to host both a Winter and Summer Games.

China’s 2008 opening ceremony was held in Beijing’s National Stadium (also known as the Bird’s Nest). Friday night’s temperatures were around 25 degrees Fahrenheit. The ceremony was shortened by COVID-19 to two hours and twenty minutes.

The organizers of the ceremony wanted to stress unity, especially in a time when so much of the world has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. This separation extends to the actual Games, which are taking place in a closed loop. The Games are held within a closed loop, with severe restrictions on media, athletes and other personnel.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was also present at the meeting with China’s President Xi Jinping.

Putin’s presence was a welcome ally to China in a time of continued criticism of its human rights record.

Diplomats from the United States government, Great Britain and other countries were absent Friday night. They have labelled the treatment of China’s Uyghur minorities as cultural genocide.

Last summer, protestors gathered outside of the Tokyo Olympics’ opening ceremony arena to protest Japan’s hosting of the event during the pandemic.

Friday night’s protests were not held near Bird’s Nest stadium. The city’s strict security measures following opening night and the closed loop Olympic system meant that streets around the city were shut down.

Coronavirus kills U.S. flag bearer

The pandemic reality beyond the closed-loop was not discussed in the evening’s performances, though some dignitaries and, sometimes, the dancers and athletes wore masks.

The evening’s highlight was the performance of the more than 3,000 dancers dressed in brightly colored costumes. Nearly all of the performers, which was a fraction of 15,000 during 2008 festivities, were teenagers.

Despite being young and the bitter cold of the evening, China’s dancers performed precise, high-energy choreography throughout all the night, especially during the almost hour-long parade by athletes.

The majority of the ceremony was made up of the parade of athletes that began with Greece.

Each of the marchers had to overcome many obstacles to reach Friday night. If they weren’t vaccinated, each competitor who entered China had to adhere to a 21-day quarantine. Before entering China, athletes who had been vaccinated had to pass multiple coronavirus tests.

Some athletes were positive for vaccination after they entered China. They were placed in isolation until they could test negative.

Elana Meyers Taylor is a veteran bobsledder who was supposed to be the flagbearer of the U.S. at the opening ceremony. She tested positive just two days after arriving in Beijing. Brittany Bowe, speed skater, was able to fill in for her. She walked with John Shuster (a curler who won a surprise gold medal in Pyeongchang four years ago).

The 2022 Beijing Winter Games will be held until February 20.