Highlights from The Times' "Ticket to Beijing" blog (at latimes.com/olympics):
According to Wang Wei, the Beijing organizing committee's general secretary, 8-8-08 was not the first choice for the opening day of the Olympics. The organizers asked for a September start because the weather is more pleasant. They were denied by the International Olympic Committee because of conflicts with the international sports schedule.
Translation: NBC told the IOC that it didn't want the Olympics to interfere with its NFL schedule.
-- Randy Harvey
Leno's opening remarks
During Thursday night's monologue, NBC's Jay Leno gave his Olympian perspective. Here's some of what the "Tonight Show" host had to say:
"Only one more day till the Olympics. People are really holding their breath. Not from excitement. It's just -- you don't have a choice in Beijing."
"To give you an idea of how bad the smog is in Beijing, China -- today they were named L.A.'s sister city."
"It will be great seeing all these athletes competing, don't you think? Finally, people in China sweating from something other than the working conditions."
"Thousands of Chinese citizens have volunteered tomorrow night to use rocket launchers to seed clouds in order to prevent rain from ruining the opening ceremonies . . . and if any of those rockets happen to land in Tibet -- whoopsie-daisy. Sorry!"
"President Bush arrived in Beijing earlier today. Again, I don't think he really understands the Olympics that well. Like they asked him if he liked the decathlon, and he said no, he preferred regular coffee."
-- Greg Johnson
Guineas for your thoughts
Watching the participating nations parade into the stadium for the Olympic Games' opening ceremony always provides a mini-geography lesson.
Points if you know where Guinea-Bissau is located -- on the west coast of Africa, on the Atlantic Ocean -- or that it existed and that it's not the same as Guinea, Papua New Guinea or Equatorial Guinea. Bonus points for identifying the sport of its flag-bearer, Augusto Midana (wrestling).
Was the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste in the geography book you used in grade school? Probably not. It became a sovereign state only in 2002. It's made up of the eastern half of the island of Timor plus some other small islands.
The human side of the parade is even more fascinating, as delegations consisting of hundreds of athletes or a single person get their turn in the spotlight. The list of scheduled flag-bearers, made public by the International Olympic Committee a few hours before the ceremony, had some familiar names:
Roger Federer, winner of 12 Grand Slam tennis titles, leading the Swiss delegation.
Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks, playing for his German homeland.
Alexis Arguello, a three-time world champion boxer and now a politician, carrying the flag of Nicaragua.
Felix Sanchez, a USC alumnus who won gold in the 400-meter hurdles in Athens and is now coaching at Harvard-Westlake, carrying the flag for the Dominican Republic.
Andrei Kirilenko of the Utah Jazz, carrying the flag for Russia.
Then there are the heartwarming picks.
U.S. flag-bearer Lopez Lomong, who was one of the "Lost Boys" of Sudan.
Natalie Du Toit of South Africa, an open-water swimmer who lost part of her left leg in a scooter accident. She was named to both the Olympic and Paralympic teams.
Hamzah Al-Hilfi, a rower from Iraq and part of a four-man Iraqi delegation that gained entry to the Games after negotiations with the International Olympic Committee. The IOC had suspended Iraq because of the government's interference with the national Olympic committee.