Sochi 2014 opens with a bang
Despite one snowflake's shaky start, Russia puts on an epic opening ceremony at the Winter Olympics, with a history-themed spectacle of light, music and dance.PT0M0S 620 349
- Didn't get up at 2am to watch the opening ceremony? Read our guide to the best bits
- Sochi Olympics: Full coverage
It began with an illustrated lecture on the Russian alphabet, featured a flying, singing girl (Sputnikki Webster, anyone?) and it ended with Vladimir Putin’s (alleged) girlfriend helping light the Olympic flame.
Most opening ceremonies feature at least one stuff-up (remember the jammed cauldron in Sydney). In Sochi it was the fifth Olympic ring, which was supposed to join its ring mates after unfurling from a glowing snowflake but instead remained a stubborn asterisk that quite ruined the image.
Russian President Vladimir Putin had a grim look on his face as the snowflake failed to unfurl and hovered next to four open circles.
The 160-odd-minute spectacular featured 3500 fireworks, 3000 performers and took place in the purpose-built, massively expensive Fisht stadium in the coastal Olympic park.
The theme was a history of Russia, from the days of Greek legend, through the industrial revolution – not to mention the actual revolution.
Russia’s celebrated composers were celebrated, there was marching and much dancing by Bolshoi superstars including (naturally) a bit of Swan Lake performed by glowing jellyfish, and there were several hallucinogenic sequences featuring huge inflatable and mechanical devices, most of which worked properly, and some of which weren’t unintentionally terrifying.
Both the symbolism and the inflatable teapots were, for the most part, as impressive as they were impenetrable.
In the grand finale, five torch-bearers beginning with Maria Sharapova passed the Olympic flame around the stadium. They included rhythmic gymnastics champion Alina Kabaeva, widely rumoured to be dating Vladimir Putin, though neither have confirmed the relationship.
The final cauldron was lit by figure skater Irina Rodnina and ice hockey player Vladislav Tretyak.
Mid-ceremony, chair of the Sochi Games Dmitry Chernyshenko said the event would inspire a generation, and show the world the best his country was proud of – its hospitality and traditions.
IOC president Thomas Bach said it had been a "remarkable achievement" for Russia to build a new Olympic resort in just seven years, which “took decades in other parts of the world”.
"I am sure you will enjoy the benefits for many years to come," he said.
He also pointedly said that the Olympics showed it was possible to live together “without any kind of discrimination for whatever reason”, in a probably nod to the controversy surrounding an Olympics whose lead-up has heavily featured debate over Russia’s anti-gay laws.
However he pleaded for political leaders to address their disagreements directly "and not on the back of these athletes".
Speaking of which, an unintentionally ironic pre-show included a song by Queen, and faux-lesbians Tatu holding hands and singing surrounded by volunteers in rainbow-coloured uniforms. Just before the show, a video message from Ban Ki-moon called gave a reminder that Olympic principles include 'human rights'.
Earlier, creative director Konstantin Ernst admitted a little ruefully that Russia couldn’t match the long history of globally-recognised pop music that made the London’s curtain-raiser such a toe-tapper.
But in a not-so-subtle dig at London’s opinion-dividing NHS sequence, Ernst had promised no part of the ceremony would only make sense to the home audience.
Ernst, the suave director-general of Channel One Russia who headed Russia’s Eurovision creative team and boasts an endearingly native sense of dry humour, told a press conference on Friday he felt a "painful" burden of responsibility to give the world an "artistic, metaphorical and informative" spectacle.
He possibly suffered from a less-than-flattering interpreter when he described the show as "straightforward, pedestrian metaphors".
"We wanted to show the main achievements of Russia," he said. "We definitely have something to boast about in classical music, arts and painting so that will be our main target."