Russia kicks off Sochi Games with hope and hubris

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 7, 2014 at 4:58 pm •  Published: February 7, 2014
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As always, Greece — the birthplace of Olympic competition — came first in the parade of nations. Five new teams, all from warm weather climates, joined the Winter Olympians for the first time. Togo's flagbearer looked dumbstruck with wonder, but those veterans from the Cayman Islands had the style to arrive in shorts!

The smallest teams often earned the biggest cheers from the crowd of 40,000, with an enthusiastic three-person Venezuelan team winning roars of approval as flagbearer and alpine skier Antonio Pardo danced and jumped along to the electronic music.

Only neighboring Ukraine, scene of a tense and ongoing standoff between a pro-Russian president and Western-leaning protesters, could compete with those cheers.

That is, until the Russians arrived.

Walking in last to a thundering bass line that struggled to overcome the ovations from the hometown crowd, the Russians reveled in all the attention. Their feeling could perhaps best be summed up by Russian singers Tatu, whose hit "Not Gonna Get Us" accompanied them to their seats.

Russians place huge significance in the Olympics, carefully watching the medal count — their dismal 15-medal performance in Vancouver four years ago is on the minds of many.

These games are particularly important, as many Russians are still insecure about their place in the world after the end of the Cold War and the years since that have seen dominance of the United States and China.

International politics were never far beneath the surface. One member of the VIP crowd carrying the Olympic flag was Anastasia Popova, a young televison reporter with the state-owned Rossiya TV channel, best known for her reporting on Syria's civil war. Putin and Russian state media have stood strongly behind Syrian President Bashar Assad, and Popova's coverage laid the blame for the war squarely on Syrian rebels.

But back to that Russian pride.

As Churikova rallied the crowd to scream "louder than ever," she told the 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."

Viewers of the Olympic ceremony romped through the wonders of Russian cultural and scientific achievements — from Malevich's avant-garde paintings to Leo Tolstoy's "War and Peace," from Mendeleev's periodic table of elements to the string of Soviet "firsts" in space.

Capping it all off, Russian hockey great Vladislav Tretiak and three-time gold medalist Irina Rodnina joined hands to light the Olympic cauldron. He's often called the greatest goaltender of all time by those who saw him play, she won 10 world pairs figure skating titles in a row.

That was how it ended. At the top, the show — and the games — easily avoided talking about prickly issues even when the women in Tatu took the stage. The duo, who put on a lesbian act that is largely seen as an attention-getting gimmick, merely held hands during their performance on this night, stopping short of the groping and kissing of their past performances.

This time? Their lead-in act was the Red Army Choir MVD singing Daft Punk's Grammy-winning "Get Lucky."

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AP Sports Writers Stephen Wilson and Jon Krawczynski contributed to this report.

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Angela Charlton can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/acharlton



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