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Why Malta enters before Australia, and other facts about the Parade of Nations

Flag bearers Apostolos Angelis and Maria Ntanou of Team Greece carry the flag of Greece during the opening ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
Lintao Zhang
/
Getty Images
Flag bearers Apostolos Angelis and Maria Ntanou of Team Greece carry the flag of Greece during the opening ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

Athletes from across the globe joined in Beijing at the Olympics opening ceremony Friday morning. But the order of the Parade of Nations might have left you wondering: Why does Malta enter before Australia?

During the parade, athletes from each of the competing nations enter the stadium together, waving their national flag and cheering to the audience.

The parade first took place the 1908 Olympics in London and has become one of the most recognizable traditions of both the Winter and Summer games. Still, the order nations walk in always feels unfamiliar to you, you're not alone.

Here's what's going on:

The marching order's first and last spots hold meaning

Greece's delegation always enters first during the Parade of Nations at each Olympics; their perpetual leading spot shows respect to their history as the site of the first Olympics in ancient times.

And the end spots always follow a form as well. The second-to-last spot goes to the nation up next to host the Winter Games — in this case, Italy as it gets set for Milan Cortina 2026 — and the current host nation, China, will enter last to close the Parade of Nations.

The order might make perfect sense to you if you read simplified Chinese well

The order of the rest of the nations is where it gets interesting. Except for the spots mentioned above, the rest of the nations usually enter in alphabetical order corresponding to the host nation's language. But China's primary language, Mandarin, doesn't have an alphabet like English does, instead it uses characters, which may be entire words themselves.

So for the Parade of Nations order in this Olympics, nations will enter based on stroke order, which is the number of strokes in the first character of the nation's name in Mandarin, and the order by which the strokes are made, Bloomberg reports.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Nell Clark is an editor at Morning Edition and a writer for NPR's Live Blog. She pitches stories, edits interviews and reports breaking news. She started in radio at campus station WVFS at Florida State University, then covered climate change and the aftermath of Hurricane Michael for WFSU in Tallahassee, Fla. She joined NPR in 2019 as an intern at Weekend All Things Considered. She is proud to be a member of NPR's Peer-to-Peer Trauma Support Team, a network of staff trained to support colleagues dealing with trauma at work. Before NPR, she worked as a counselor at a sailing summer camp and as a researcher in a deep-sea genetics lab.