Published February 07, 2014
SOCHI, Russia – Russian and Western music, dancing, and a light show highlighted the Olympic opening ceremony in Sochi Friday, but many will remember the technical glitches that left one of the five famous rings in the dark.
The opening ceremony on the edge of the Black Sea and subsequent games are Russia's chance to tell its story, and dispel the anger, fear and suspicion that has marred the buildup to these most expensive Olympics ever.
Five large, glowing snowflakes emerged from a whimsical opening meant to depict the four seasons. They floated to the top of Fisht arena and, one by one, started to morph into the rings. But only four joined together while the fifth remained a snowflake, apparently stuck.
The five rings were supposed to join together and erupt in pyrotechnics to get the party started. Instead, they were eventually darkened and moved out of the arena, just as Russian President Vladimir Putin was introduced.
Just after the sun set over the Caucasus Mountains and along the seashore just outside Fisht Stadium in the wet-paint-fresh Olympic Park, Russian TV star Yana Churikova shouted to a crowd still taking their seats: "Welcome to the center of the universe!"
For the next two weeks, it certainly is for the 3,000 athletes who will compete in 98 events, more people and contests than ever at the Winter Games.
Russian police sang Daft Punk, a pop band belted out Queen in Russian, and two emcees led the crowd in a round of the wave as the host country tried to reach out to visitors from the West.
But every athlete who makes it to Sochi is honored with the title Olympian, and a satellite image of the earth was projected on the floor of Fisht Stadium as they entered during the parade of nations, the map shifting so the athletes emerged from their own country. The athletes from the Cayman Islands even arrived in shorts.
After Greece, traditionally first as the birthplace nation of Olympic competition, the teams marched into the stadium in Russian alphabetical order, putting the U.S. between Slovenia and Tajkistan.
Many athletes decided to stay off their feet for the opening ceremony because they'll be on their skates or skis the next day. Several figure skaters say they're skipping the ceremony's spectacular but tedious parade of athletes to rest up for their competition Saturday.
The ceremony was crafted as a celebration of Russia and is presenting Putin's version: a country with a rich and complex history emerging confidently from a rocky two decades and now capable of putting on a major international sports event.
And it didn't take long for that classic Russian pride in their nation to come shining through.
As Churikova rallied the crowd to scream "louder than ever," she told the 40,000 fans in their cool blue seats their keepsakes from the night would last 1,000 years. When explaining the show would be hosted in English, French and Russian, she joked that it didn't matter, because in Sochi, everyone "speaks every language in the world."
The official ceremony opened with the Russian alphabet projected on the stadium floor, as a young girl told the story of her country's heroes and their globally renowned achievements: composer Tchaikovsky; artists Kandinsky, Chagall and Malevich; writers Tolstoy, Pushkin and Chekhov; Mendeleev and his periodic table; the first spaceship Sputnik and Russia's space stations.
There was a glitch, too, as the lighting of the five Olympic Rings overshadowed the singing of the Russian national anthem. Five stars on cables drifted together above the stadium, and four of them turned into Olympic rings -- but the fifth never unfurled and they all failed to erupt into white flames as planned, marring what's traditionally a key moment in the ceremony.
Two Russian Olympic greats, Vladislav Tretiak and Irina Rodnina, were given the honor of sparking the cauldron that will burn throughout the Olympics. Tretiak was a star on the great Soviet Union hockey teams of the 1970s and '80s and is usually called the best goalie ever, and Rodnina is an innovative figure skater who won three straight Olympic pairs titles
The pair was handed the Olympic torch from Alina Kabayeva, a former Olympic champion gymnast who has been linked romantically with Russian President Vladimir Putin, although the Kremlin has denied it.
In a nod to Russia's long history, the anthem was sung by the 600-year-old Sretensky Monastery Choir, a symbol of an increasing rapprochement between the state and the Russian Orthodox Church.
Russian singers Tatu performed "Not Gonna Get Us" -- steering clear of the very real anger over a Russian law banning gay "propaganda" aimed at minors that is being used to discriminate against gays.
The women in Tatu put on a lesbian act that is largely seen as an attention-getting gimmick, but on this night, they merely held hands, stopping short of the groping and kissing of their past performances
This time, their lead-in act was the Red Army Choir MVD signing Daft Punk's Grammy-winning "Get Lucky."
Putin waved from his booth alongside IOC President Thomas Bach at the ceremony's opening.
The unveiling of the rings is always one of the most iconic moments of an opening ceremony. The broken snowflake isn't the first opening ceremony blunder in Olympic history, of course. Vancouver, Sydney and Seoul all had issues with the torch lighting.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.