February 8

Russia kicks off Sochi Games with hope and hubris

The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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Todd Lodwick of the United States carries his country flag as the team arrives during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, on Friday.

The Associated Press

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Fireworks are seen over Olympic Park during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, on Friday.

The Associated Press

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 Olympics 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 flag bearer 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 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.

Perhaps cuing on those feelings, it didn't take long for the classic Russian pride to come shining through at the opening ceremony.

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."

The moment of high pride came at the end, when 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 — cleared the first chance to focus on one of those issues Putin would prefer the world to avoid talking about during the next two weeks without so much as a wink.

The women in Tatu, 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.

At the MTV awards in 2003, the duo performed with dozens of young women dressed in tightfitting schoolgirl uniforms that they stripped off in the end.

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

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