Sochi welcome world in glittering Olympic showpiece

07 February 2014 / 19:12

Inspired by the soaring prose of Chekhov and set to a timeless score by Tchaikovsky, Sochi's Olympics opened in a blaze of colour, a flurry of fireworks and an indoor blizzard to temporarily silence all those who worried about the snow.

Just as in London, the colours of choice were red, white and blue but Vladimir Putin did not follow the lead of the Queen.

He kept his entrance a little more understated as he declared the Games open, the culmination of a seven-year plan that makes these Olympics the most expensive ever staged.

Sochi's first night showpiece raced through an odyssey of Russian history at breakneck speed, from Peter the Great to the rise of Bolshevik power and the Soviet Union's pioneering cosmonauts, who reached out for the stars in the ultimate race. 

Leo Tolstoy's 1,200 page epic War and Peace was even distilled to a sharp eight minutes and 55 seconds as house music and classical scores merged into a foot-tapping mash-up designed to introduce a watching world to a new Russia.

After a 123 day journey that started when the flame was kindled from the rays of the sun in Ancient Olympia, tennis star Maria Sharapova carried the torch into the stadium before passing on to Olympic champions Yelena Isinbayeva, Alina Kabaeva and Alexander Karelin.

But the job of lighting the cauldron fell to three-time figure skating gold medallist Irina Rodrina and ice hockey legend Vladimir Tretiak. 

And Tretiak can certainly tell the athletes of today about overcoming adversity and emerging the better man. Arguably the world's greatest goalkeeper, he was famously and maybe decisively substituted during the Soviet Union's famous Miracle on Ice defeat to the USA at the 1980 Games.

But he returned four years later to take his tally to three Olympic golds and this was another highlight in a storied career.

Jon Eley became the first athlete to lead out a British Olympic team here, chef de mission Dick Palmer carrying the flag alone at the 1980 Moscow Games, when athletes choose to boycott the opening.

Short track skater Eley, competing at his third Games, marched at the head of 62 athletes and officials, clad in Russian hats, with team-mates also watching on television at the Olympic village, in the mountains and at preparation camps across Europe.

"There was so much energy in the stadium and this is a great start to the Games," said former skeleton world champion Kristan Bromley, competing at his fourth Olympics. 

"We had a really warm welcome. It's a proud moment to walk into the stadium behind your flag and it brings it all home."

Biathlete Amanda Lightfoot will start her first competition on Sunday but insisted she was always going to march at the opening ceremony.

"It was absolutely amazing coming in," she said, Team GB entering behind Macedonia and before Hungary to reflect their place in the cyrillic alphabet. 

"It was overwhelming, I've never been in front of such a big crowd. That was one of the proudest moments of my life. I was speechless."

This is arguably Britain's best prepared Winter Olympic team, with five world medallists from last year in their ranks. In addition this season has seen more athletes climb podiums at World Cup and European Championship level, one even beat the best of Norway at their own game, improbably winning their national sprint nordic skiing title.

But margins between success and failure can be even more cruel at the Winter Games. The difference between feeling a champ and looking a chump can be a fraction of a degree under rotation on a Double McTwist or the slightest of stutters on a triple axel. 

But all that is to come, the show is finally on and it's all downhill from here.

From James Toney, Sportsbeat, in Sochi

© Sportsbeat 2014