Four out of five Olympic rings are seen lit up during the opening ceremony of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. Photo by Reuters
Russia's Winter Games got off to a shaky start when one of
the five Olympic rings failed to unfurl, but ballet dancers,
stirring music and huge mechanical props tracing the host
nation's history propelled the opening ceremony forward.
Only four of the five giant Olympic rings formed from
snowflake-shaped structures suspended from the roof of the
40,000-capacity Fisht Stadium in Sochi, meaning the symbol
could not be illuminated with fireworks as planned.
The showboat start to a Games that President Vladimir Putin
hopes will burnish Russia's image on the world stage went on
without further interruption, with cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev,
who has spent more days in space than anyone, hoisting the
Putin officially opened the Feb. 7-23 Games to a burst of
fireworks that lit up the clear night sky outside the
gleaming new stadium located on the shores of the Black Sea.
"I declare the 22nd Winter Olympic Games open," said Putin,
launching an event he has personally championed.
Before the rings hiccup, a young girl in a white dress soared
into the air, lifted by a harness, and sang as floating
islands featuring folktale Russian landscapes drifted
dreamlike across the stadium.
Cartoonish giant inflatable church domes and mascots were
less well received, but the crowd saved some of its biggest
cheers for the athletes as they emerged from beneath the
In an innovative twist, huge satellite images of each nation
taken from space were projected onto the floor as the teams
The Russians, outfitted in white fur-trimmed hats and coats,
drew loud applause from the audience, and light boxes on
seats in the stands created a dazzling visual backdrop.
"WAR AND PEACE"
Among the most eye-catching scenes was a graceful waltz led
by stars of Russian ballet as towering columns rose from the
floor to set a scene echoing Leo Tolstoy's masterpiece "War
The twirling dancers were chased away by stark red lights,
jarring music and a giant train embodying the upheaval of the
1917 Russian revolution and the importance of the avant-garde
art movement at around that time.
Soviet symbols rendered in a socialist realist style -
including a huge hammer and sickle - took the audience
through decades portrayed as a time of industrial progress;
the thaw of the 1950s to present day.
Roller skaters, their costumes glowing in a darkened arena,
sped across the floor, and "constellations" in the shape of
winter athletes twinkled in the cavernous space above. A
lightning bolt shot from an ice hockey player's stick.
In one of the final scenes, the honour of lighting the Sochi
Olympic flame went jointly to triple Olympic champions
Vladislav Tretyak and Irina Rodnina.
The state-of-the-art Fisht Stadium is one of several
construction projects that have swelled the budget of the
Winter Games to a record $50 billion.
The run-up to the Games was marred by threats from Islamist
militants based in nearby Chechnya and neighbouring southern
Russian regions to launch attacks, and by international
criticism of Russia's new "gay propaganda" law.
Organisers have also been under fire for the huge costs
involved, unfinished accommodation and amenities, and even
the treatment of stray dogs in and around Sochi.
But Putin will hope the opening ceremony signals an end to
the griping, as athletes, who have been largely complimentary
about the facilities and organisation so far, get the chance
to provide thrills and spills on ice and snow.