Last updated Thursday, July 24, 2014 12:14pm

The Olympic flame is surrounded by waterfalls during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, February 7, 2014. ― Reuters picThe Olympic flame is surrounded by waterfalls during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, February 7, 2014. ― Reuters picSOCHI, Feb 8 ― Olympic athletes were today competing for the first medals of the Sochi Winter Games after Russia staged a thrilling opening ceremony that impressed even foreign sceptics.

President Vladimir Putin late yesterday declared open the 22nd Winter Olympics in a ceremony that took 40,000 people packed into the Fisht stadium and TV viewers around the world on a lightning tour through Russian history.

Thousands of fireworks exploded above the venue on the Black Sea coast during a ceremony that won gushing global praise despite an early glitch when one of the Olympic rings failed to appear.

“We missed this for so many years... a pride for our country, a feeling for her power, unity and greatness. Yesterday, we felt it,” the Moskovsky Komsomolets daily said.

After a build-up dogged by controversies on issues ranging from Russia’s gay rights record to security, the successful ceremony took some pressure off the organisers, who have been under unprecedented scrutiny.

In Games that are among the most politically charged of recent times, the focus moves to the sporting action Saturday at sea-level and in the mountains above Sochi. Five gold medals are up for grabs.

The first gold will likely come in the women’s cross-country skiathlon, while Norwegian biathlete Ole Einar Bjoerndalen, 40, will become the joint highest medal winner in Winter Olympics history if he makes the podium in the sprint.

Women will seek gold in the spectacular moguls freestyle event, the men’s snowboard slopestyle will be decided after a succession of spectacular crashes while the endurance kings of speed skating will face off in the lung-busting men’s 5,000 metres.

‘We want to break stereotypes’

The high-octane ceremony, devised by the powerful boss of Russia's Channel One television Konstantin Ernst, got off to a rocky start when one of five illuminated artificial snowflakes that were supposed to morph into the Olympic rings failed to open, leaving just four rings.

In the Gallery


  • Fireworks are seen over the Fisht Olympic Stadium at the Olympic Park during the rehearsal of the opening ceremony in Sochi, February 4, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Russian Federation president Vladimir Putin walks on the stage before speaking during the opening ceremony of the 126th IOC session in Sochi, February 4, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Prince Albert II of Monaco arrives to attend the opening ceremony of the 126th IOC session in Sochi, February 4, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • A technician gestures before the opening ceremony of the 126th IOC session in Sochi, February 4, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • A picture of a training target is seen during a biathlon practice session for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games at the 'Laura' cross-country and biathlon centre in Rosa Khutor February 4, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • A volunteer arranges flags before the opening ceremony of the 126th IOC session in Sochi, February 4, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • South Korean speed skaters practise at the Adler Arena in preparation for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics February 4, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Poland's Ewa Kuls speeds down the track during an unofficial women's luge progressive training at the Sanki sliding center in Rosa Khutor, a venue for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics near Sochi, February 4, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Members of China's Olympic Team pose with Olympic mascots during a welcoming ceremony for the team in the Athletes Village at the Olympic Park ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi February 5, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Russian soldiers raise China's national flag during a welcoming ceremony for the team in the Athletes Village at the Olympic Park ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi February 5, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Italy’s Armin Zoeggeler prepares for the start during the men’s luge training at the Sanki sliding centre in Rosa Khutor, a venue for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, near Sochi, February 7, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Austria’s Otmar Striedinger takes part in the second training session for the men’s alpine skiing downhill event during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center February 7, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Members of Kazakhstan’s speedskating team practise at the Adler Arena ahead of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, February 7, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Japan’s Daiki Ito soars through the air during the men’s ski jumping individual normal hill training event of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games, at the RusSki Gorki Ski Jumping Centre in Rosa Khutor February 7, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • A fan of the US attends the alpine skiing downhill training events during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Centre February 7, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Switzerland's women's ice hockey players gather around the goal during their game against Canada at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, February 8, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • A fan of the Canadian team watches the women's ice hockey game against Switzerland at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics February 8, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Evgeny Plyushchenko of Russia competes during the Team Men Free Skating Program at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, February 9, 2014.— Reuters pic

  • Kevin Reynolds of Canada competes during the figure skating team men's free skating at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, February 9, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • A fan stands inside the Olympic rings, in which the Olympic flame is reflected during the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics Games February 9, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • A girl wearing a fan entrance ticket runs with Russian national flags at the Olympic Park during the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics Games February 9, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • German fan smiles in front of the Olympic cauldron and flame during the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics Games February 9, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Austria's Lisa Theresa Hauser prepares to shoot during the women's biathlon 7.5km sprint event at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics February 9, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • A volunteer gives out directions to spectators at the entrance of the Olympic Park at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, February 9, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Irene Wust of the Netherlands skates to first place during the women’s 3,000 metres speed skating race at the Adler Arena during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics February 9, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Poland‘s Kamil Stoch celebrates his victory after his final jump of the men’s ski jumping normal hill individual event of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games, at the RusSki Gorki Ski Jumping Center in Rosa Khutor, February 9, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Kevin Reynolds of Canada celebrates in the ‘kiss and cry’ area with teammates during the Team Men Free Skating Programme at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, February 9, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Elena Ilinykh (left) and Nikita Katsalapov of Russia compete during the figure skating team ice dance free dance at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, February 9, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Canada’s Zina Kocher shoots during the women’s biathlon 7.5km sprint event at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics February 9, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Winner Dario Cologna of Switzerland reacts during the flower ceremony for the men’s skiathlon event at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics in Rosa Khutor February 9, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Sarka Pancochova of the Czech Republic performs a jump during the women’s snowboard slopestyle finals event at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics in Rosa Khutor, February 9, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Winner Germany’s Felix Loch (centre) celebrates while second-placed Russia’s Albert Demchenko (left) stands beside him after the men’s singles luge competition at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics February 9, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Empty seats are seen at the alpine skiing venue during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, February 9, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Gold medallist Justine Dufour-Lapointe of Canada celebrates with silver medallist, compatriot Chloe Dufour-Lapointe (left), and bronze medallist, Hannah Kearney of the US (right), during the medal ceremony for the women’s freestyle skiing moguls at the Sochi 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, February 9, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Italy’s Francesca Marsaglia speeds down the course during the downhill run of the women’s alpine skiing super combined event at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Centre February 10, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Austria’s Anna Fenninger competes during the downhill run of the women’s alpine skiing super combined event at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Centre February 10, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Russia’s vice Alexey Stukalskiy (centre) delivers a stone as Russia's Peter Dron (left) and Evgeny Arkhipov sweep during their men's curling round robin game against Britain at the 2014 Sochi Olympics in the Ice Cube Curling Centre in Sochi February 10, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • A fan of Canada wearing a hat in the shape of a stone looks on during their men’s curling round robin game against Germany at the 2014 Sochi Olympics in the Ice Cube Curling Centre in Sochi February 10, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Canada's Charles Hamelin celebrates winning as China's Chen Dequan (back right) and J.R. Celski of the US (bottom left) fall, during the men's 1,500 metres short track speed skating race finals at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics February 10, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Winner Canada's Charles Hamelin hugs his girlfriend and compatriot speed skater Marianne St-Gelais after the men's 1,500 metres short track speed skating race finals at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics February 10, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Britain's Jack Whelbourne is consoled after crashing out during the men's 1,500 metres short track speed skating race finals at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics February 10, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Kazakhstan's Roman Krech skates during the men's 500 metres speed skating race at the Adler Arena during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics February 10, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Stefan Groothuis of the Netherlands (right) and Brian Hansen of the US compete in race one of the men's 500 meters speed skating event during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, February 10, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Argentina's Macarena Simari Birkner competes in the slalom run of the women's alpine skiing super combined event at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center February 10, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • (Left to right) Third-placed Julia Mancuso of the US, winner Germany's Maria Hoefl-Riesch and second-placed Austria's Nicole Hosp celebrate after the women's alpine skiing super combined event at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center February 10, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Germany's winner Maria Hoefl-Riesch and third-placed Julia Mancuso of the US (right) celebrate during the flower ceremony after the women's alpine skiing super combined event during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics at th Rosa Khutor Alpine Center February 10, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • A fan with her face painted in the colours of the US flag, is seen in front of the US flag as she attends the women's preliminary round hockey game between Team USA and Switzerland at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games February 10, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • People pose against the Olympic rings with the flame in the background during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, February 10, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • The Netherlands’ Michel Mulder celebrates after the Men’s Speed Skating 500m at the Adler Arena during the Sochi Winter Olympics on February 10, 2014. — AFP pic

  • Taylor Gold of the U.S. is airborne during the men's snowboard halfpipe semi-final event at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games, in Rosa Khutor February 11, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Britain’s Stacey Kemp and David King react the ‘kiss and cry’ area during the Figure Skating Pairs Short Programme at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, February 11, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Felicia Zhang (left) and Nathan Bartholomay of the US compete during the figure skating pairs short programme at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, February 11, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Japan's goalie Nana Fujimoto (30) reacts as Russia's Galina Skiba (right) celebrates a goal by teammate Tatyana Burina (not shown) during the first period of their women's ice hockey game at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games, February 11, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Felicia Zhang (right) and Nathan Bartholomay of the US compete during the figure skating pairs short programme at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, February 11, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • China's Shi Wancheng crashes during the men's snowboard halfpipe semi-final event at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games, in Rosa Khutor February 11, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Norway's Tora Berger reacts after competing in the women's biathlon 10km pursuit event at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Rosa Khutor February 11, 2014.

  • Winner Germany’s Eric Frenzel (centre) jumps on the podium as second-placed Japan’s Akito Watabe (left) and third-placed Norway’s Magnus Krog (right), applaud, during the flower ceremony for the Nordic Combined individual normal hill 10 km event of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games, Rosa Khutor, February 12, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Hannah Teter of the US performs a jump during the women's snowboard halfpipe qualification round at the Sochi Winter Olympic Games in Rosa Khutor February 12, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Canada’s women's hockey team gesture after winning against Team USA during their women's preliminary round hockey game at the Sochi Winter Olympic Games February 12, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • France's Maxime Chataignier crashes out during the men's 1,000 metres short track speed skating heats at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics February 13, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Violinist Vanessa Mae Vanakorn, who is representing Thailand, poses for photographers on top of the mountain of Rosa Khutor during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, February 13, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • A girl waves atop a watchtower in front of the Bolshoy Ice Dome, one of the two ice hockey venues for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, February 13, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Latvia's Zemgus Girgensons (centre) is tripped up by Czech Republic's Marek Zidlicky (left) and Martin Hanzal during the third period of their men's preliminary round ice hockey game at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games February 14, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Spectators enjoy sunny weather in the Olympic Park at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, February 14, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Performers pose by the Olympic cauldron at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, February 14, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Sweden's Daniel Richardsson skis during the men's 15 km cross-country classic event at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Rosa Khutor February 14, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • A hostess smiles prior the flower ceremony for the women's alpine skiing Super G competition during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center February 15, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Winner Austria's Anna Fenninger (centre) poses on podium flanked by second-placed Germany's Maria Hoefl-Riesch (left) and third-placed Austria's Nicole Hosp during the flower ceremony for the women's alpine skiing Super G competition during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics at the Rosa Khutor Alpine Center February 15, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Ashley Wagner of the US practises her routine during a figure skating training session at the Iceberg Skating Palace training arena during the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics February 17, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Gracie Gold of the United States competes during the Team Ladies Free Skating Programme at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, February 9, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • A man sits on a ski lift ahead of the men's snowboard cross qualification round at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games in Rosa Khutor February 17, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Snowboarders wait in the fog during a delayed start for the men's snowboard cross qualification round at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games in Rosa Khutor February 17, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and Prime minister Dmitry Medvedev (right) watch the cross country skiing men's relay during the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games at Laura Cross-Country Ski and Biathlon Center February 16, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • A skier takes part in a cross-country training session for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games at the Laura Cross-Country and Biathlon Center in Rosa Khutor, February 17, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Russian fans react as they watch a broadcast of the ice hockey quarter-final match between Russia and Finland in the Olympic Park during the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi February 19, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Korea's Yuna Kim competes during the Figure Skating Women's Short Program at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics February 19, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • Russia's Adelina Sotnikova reacts with her choreographer Irina Tagaeva (left) and her coach Elena Buyanova (right) in the ‘kiss and cry’ area during the Figure Skating Women's Short Program at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, February 19, 2014. — Reuters pic

  • A Russian fan watches the men's quarter-finals ice hockey game between Russia and Finland at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, February 19, 2014. — Reuters pic

But organisers brushed off the mishap, admitting that they covered up the glitch on Russian state television by quickly inserting footage of the segment they had recorded days earlier.

The unflappable Ernst drew on Buddhist philosophy. “There is a saying that you have to kick out the uneven part of a perfectly polished ball to understand how perfect it is,” he said.

Thereafter the show charmed and stunned in equal measure, taking viewers on a lightning tour through Russian history and culture guided by a young girl named Lyubov (Love).

“We want to break stereotypes and show the world the new Russia,” said the head of the Sochi organising committee, Dmitry Chernyshenko.

The Russian team won huge cheers as they entered to the song “Nas Ne Dogonyat” (“Not Gonna Get Us”) by female pop duo Tatu, known for their raunchy lesbian-tinged pop videos.

In a nod towards Russia’s proud sporting past, the Olympic cauldron was lit by two triple gold-winning Soviet winter sports icons ― figure skater Irina Rodnina and ice hockey legend Vladislav Tretyak.

The flame had been brought into the stadium by US-based Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova and the final relay included Olympic rhythmic gymnastics champion Alina Kabayeva, who has been rumoured in some quarters to be Putin’s lover.

Even the foreign press, which have been hugely critical of Russia in the days up to the Games, heaped praised on the ceremony.

“For Russia last night it marked its revival as a post-Soviet powerhouse, confident of its seat at the top table after two decades of doubt and despondency,” Britain’s Daily Mail wrote.

‘Keep politics out of Olympics’

Putin, who spearheaded the successful bid in 2007, welcomed more than 40 other heads of state and leaders for the ceremony, including UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Chinese President Xi Jinping, and embattled Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich.

However, US President Barack Obama as well as the leaders of key EU states Britain, France, and Germany were conspicuous by their absence, a move seen by many as a snub over Russia’s now notorious anti-gay law.

But IOC President Thomas Bach made an impassioned call for politics to stay out of sport, saying
“have the courage to address your disagreements in political dialogue and not on the back of your athletes”.

The security concerns that have shadowed these Games were underlined when a Ukrainian man attempted to hijack an airliner en route from Ukraine to Turkey and divert it to Sochi.

But Turkish military jets forced the plane to land in Istanbul, where security teams overpowered the man, said to be drunk.

The United States has already announced a temporary ban on liquids and gels in hand luggage on Russia-bound flights, following a warning that militants could stuff explosives into toothpaste. ― AFP 

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