They will celebrate a millennium of Russian might and the country's modern rebound, and kick off two weeks of extraordinary human endeavors.
But more than anything else, the ceremony opening the Sochi Olympics on Friday will be about one man: Vladimir Putin.
Details of the show are under wraps, but rumor has it they will include man-made snow, ballet and avant-garde art.
Winter Games are usually more low-key, so don't expect the cinematic splendor of the London Olympics or the pyrotechnic extravaganza of Beijing.
Terrorism fears, worries about gay rights and huge cost overruns have clouded the run-up to the games.
But at Friday's opening, all Putin needs is an event that tells the world "Russia is back."