BEIJING, China — The Winter Olympics kicked off Friday with the Opening Ceremony and the majority of Team USA joined in the festivities in-person.
The ceremony was the first prominent celebration of the Winter Games, but this year it looked and sounded slightly different without fans, much like last year's Summer Olympics in Tokyo. However, it still included performances, pageantry and the Parade of Nations.
Like the Tokyo Olympics, this parade differed from most others in the past because the nations were being spaced out — a nod to social distancing. The Beijing National Stadium -- also known as the "Bird's Nest" -- was also notably much more empty with limited spectators. UPI reports that the stadium was only filled to about 40% of its 91,000 capacity.
U.S. officials said 177 American athletes took part in the Parade of Nations, with curler John Shuster and speed skater Brittany Bowe leading Team USA as the flagbearers. Three-time Olympic medalist, and one of the most decorated American bobsledders, Elana Meyers Taylor was originally tapped as one of the flag bearer alongside Shuster, but she was forced to skip the ceremony after testing positive for COVID shortly after arriving in Beijing.
"Every time you walk into that Opening Ceremony stadium it's just a feeling of almost floating, it's just incredible," Shuster told the TODAY show after the Opening Ceremony.
"To be able to lead Team USA alongside John, on behalf of Elana and her family, is an honor of a lifetime," Bowe said the on the TODAY show. "I can't think of a more powerful, uniting moment than what we just went through together."
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Here's a look at what the Opening Ceremony looked like before and during from the athletes' perspective:
U.S. skiing star Mikaela Shiffrin was one of the athletes who wasn't able to attend the Opening Ceremony is person, but she still shared a photo to mark the occasion.