Sichuan boy almost misses Olympics parade

Aug. 09, 2008, 11:29 a.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) One of the most memorable moments at the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony was Chinese basketball idol Yao Ming walking hand in hand with a 9-year-old survivor of May's massive earthquake. But it almost didn't happen, the event's director said Saturday.

"We were so nervous," movie director Zhang Yimou recalled hours after directing Friday night's four-hour spectacular curtain raiser for the Summer Games.

"Then I told the deputy director 'you go and pull him out there.'"

Zhang said there had been some miscommunication backstage and schoolboy Lin Hao was almost prevented from entering the stadium for the competitors' parade because he is not an athlete.

Lin made it to the 7-foot-6 (232 centimeters) tall Yao's side about eight seconds later than scheduled, Zhang said. The pair led the 630-strong Chinese team around the stadium, which was introduced to wild applause and cheers.

Lin survived the powerful May 12 earthquake centred in the southwestern province of Sichuan that took nearly 70,000 lives and left more than 5 million people homeless.

Zhang said his directing team wanted to include a reminder in the opening ceremony of the solidarity Chinese people showed in the aftermath of magnitude 7.9 quake. He said he chose Lin "because he was very small and cute."

"We think having this little boy with a tall Yao Ming symbolizes a giant leading our future generation. I think it's meaningful," he said.

The opening ceremony, an extravaganza of fireworks and pageantry, was watched by an estimated 4 billion people watched the event live on TV worldwide.

The story presented 5,000 years of Chinese history - featuring everything from the Great Wall to opera puppets to a futuristic elevated globe - and highlighting achievements in art, music and science. Roughly 15,000 people were in the cast and crew.

Zhang did not reveal how much the opening ceremony cost.

Describing the show as "perfect" and giving his team full marks, the Chinese film director said creating Friday night's event was 100 times more complicated than directing a movie.

Zhang said he could not yet relax because he has still to complete preparations for the Aug. 24 closing ceremony and the opening and closing ceremonies of the Paralympics.