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Olympic Opening Ceremony

Russia Welcomes the World in Dazzling Opening Ceremony

Image: Delegation members of the U.S. parade during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games at Fisht stadium

Delegation members of the U.S. parade during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games at Fisht stadium February 7, 2014. BRIAN SNYDER / Reuters

SOCHI, Russia — Russia raised the curtain Friday on its $50 billion Winter Games, seizing the world stage with a dazzling display of color and cultural pride that welcomed 3,000 athletes to its gleaming new Olympic stadium.

A triumphant President Vladimir Putin formally declared the games open — wresting the spotlight, for a moment at least, from the threat of terrorism and the specter of shoddy preparations that have marred his crowning achievement.

Maria Sharapova, the tennis star and a native of Sochi, jogged the Olympic torch into Fisht Stadium and handed it off to a series of Russian sports greats.

Then, solving the biggest mystery surrounding any opening ceremony, Soviet hockey great Vladislav Tretiak and figure skating legend Irina Rodnina ran it outside for the final honor. They touched off columns of shooting flames that climbed the soaring cauldron at the center of Sochi’s Olympic park, where it will burn for the remaining 16 days of competition.

To the beat of electro-pop, Olympians all over the world marched onto the floor of Fisht Stadium: Greece first, as the birthplace of the games, then the other countries according to the Cyrillic alphabet. Russia, as host nation, went last, to enormous cheers.

To the beat of electro-pop, Olympians all over the world marched onto the floor.

The American delegation entered, 230 athletes strong. Many of them posted immediate memories on Instagram and Twitter, the games now firmly in the social media era. The Americans were marching in an Olympics in Russia for the first time. The United States boycotted the Cold War-era 1980 Summer Games in Moscow.

Putin watched it all from his presidential box. He saw one early glitch: At the end of a segment highlighting Russia’s vast size, five snowflakes suspended from the ceiling were to explode into the five Olympic rings, but one malfunctioned.

Image:
The Olympic flame is lit during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi on Friday. Bernat Armangue / AP

The opening ceremony formally began an Olympics already awash in controversy, from reports of rampant corruption to worldwide attention on a Russian law banning homosexual “propaganda.” Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee, told the crowd that the games could take place “with tolerance and without any form of discrimination for whatever reason.”

And the Sochi Games opened in the shadow of a terrorism threat. Islamist militants from the next-door Caucasus region have threatened to attack the Sochi Games. Russia has vowed to defend a 1,500-square-mile “ring of steel” around the Olympic city.

The opening ceremony was the chance for Sochi organizers to put the focus back on competition, and the spectacle of the games.

In a reminder of the danger, authorities in Turkey said a plane was grounded there after a Ukrainian man on board said he had a bomb and demanded that the flight be diverted to Sochi.

The crew told him yes, then turned off the in-flight monitors and flew to Istanbul instead. The plane, which had 110 passengers, was in a secure area at the airport there, and Turkish authorities detained the hijacker.

Sochi, a Black Sea resort city utterly transformed in the seven years since Russia was awarded the games, also received attention for not being ready: The water ran brown in some hotel rooms, others weren’t finished, and stray dogs roamed the city.

“Thank you for your patience,” Bach told the crowd. “Thank you for your understanding during these years of transformation. Now you’re living in an Olympic region. I’m sure you will enjoy the benefits for many, many years to come.”

The opening ceremony was the chance for Sochi organizers to put the focus back on competition, and the spectacle of the games.

Image: Dancers perform during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games at Fisht stadium
Dancers perform during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games at Fisht stadium. BRIAN SNYDER / Reuters

One movie presentation distilled a thousand years of Russian history into three minutes, and another featured a girl reciting the Cyrillic alphabet, with each letter tied to a Russian contribution to world history, from Pushkin’s fairy tales to the periodic table of elements.

Later, children strutted onto the stadium floor in front of inflatable onion domes representing St. Basil’s Cathedral, depictions of ships heralded Peter the Great’s creation of the Russian navy, and Russian ballet stars staged an Imperial Ball.

Turning away from the darker side of its Soviet past, Russia focused on industrial might — rolling out a giant train and an enormous sickle during a segment on the 20th century. Actors playing office workers, hipsters and cosmonauts converged to form a modern metropolis.

It all finished with a spectacular fireworks display — there were more than 3,500 pyrotechnics in all — that lit up the skies over Sochi’s so-called coastal cluster of Olympic venues, host to ice hockey, figure skating and other events over the coming two weeks.

The ceremony came in at under three hours. Konstantin Ernst, the creative producer and head of a Russian television network, told reporters earlier in the day that long opening ceremonies were “painful” to watch.