Friday, February 7, 2014

Observations from the opening ceremonies

By on Fri, Feb 7, 2014 at 12:35 PM

Hayley Wickenheiser leads Team Canada into Fisht Olympic Stadium during Friday's opening ceremonies. - PHOTO COURTESY OF CANADIAN OLYMPIC COMMITTEE
  • Photo courtesy of Canadian Olympic Committee
  • Hayley Wickenheiser leads Team Canada into Fisht Olympic Stadium during Friday's opening ceremonies.

Russia’s Winter Olympic Games are now open after today’s opening ceremonies, which were staged beautifully inside Sochi’s Fisht Olympic Stadium.

As opening ceremonies do, the program paid tribute to key moments of Russian history, important figures in Russian culture and technology, and to the athletes themselves.

As compelling and gorgeous as the ceremonies were, I have to admit that I was expecting there to be a “Beijing moment,” for lack of a better term, that never really came. We all remember the jaw-dropping intro to the Games that China provided in 2008, and considering the $51 billion price tag on these Olympics, it was reasonable to assume that there would be some kind of outrageous display of Russian power.

However, we did get a “2010 cauldron moment” pretty early on.
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One of five illuminated snowflakes, which unfurled into the Olympic rings, had a mechanical failure and left the iconic logo a circle short. It was oddly reminiscent of how one of the Olympic cauldron’s legs failed to rise out of the floor and left Catriona Le May Doan with nothing to do.

But, that was about the only hiccup in the entire program.

The athletes marched into the stadium early in the festivities, and the Canadian team received a warm welcome from the crowd. The hosts of the last Winter Olympics looked pretty spiffy, entering the stadium in their red coats, and clearly enjoyed the moment.



Meanwhile, Canadian athletes up in the mountain cluster, or ones who haven’t yet arrived in Sochi made sure to mark the occasion even if they weren’t part of the Canuck contingent at the opening ceremonies.



Of course, the Russian team entered the stadium last, and to the biggest ovation of the evening. However, it was kind of strange that they walked in to a remix of faux-lesbian pop group t.A.T.u’s “Not Gonna Get Us,” given the country’s stance on homosexuality...  

Segments of the program devoted to the Russian Revolution, War and Peace, the ballet Swan Lake and other cultural and historical touchstones were carried out magnificently by the 3,000 performers involved in the production. A representation of St. Basil’s Cathedral with float balloons was particularly visually striking. Images were super-imposed on the stadium floor throughout, and the entire program seemed to fly by much faster than its three-hour length.

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The speeches that come along with opening ceremonies are usually a good time for a bathroom break, but the address delivered by IOC president Thomas Bach was outstanding, as he spoke elegantly about the Olympics being about tolerance and the embracing of diversity. It was a powerful message to open a Games where discrimination has been a prevailing theme.

The lighting of the Olympic flame was also a special moment, with tennis great Maria Sharapova carrying the torch into the stadium, followed by legendary Russian goalie Vladislav Tretiak and figure skating champion Irina Rodnina lighting the cauldron together. The 60-something Olympic gold medallists had a long run through the stadium to make it to the cauldron, but it was a lot less awkward than Wayne Gretzky riding in the back of a pick-up truck.

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But ultimately, there was one moment that stood out as my favourite — the fact that the greatest Russian pop song of all time made its way into the program. You can watch the segment here, but if this is your first introduction to Eduard Khil's "I Am So Happy to Finally Be Back Home," well, you're welcome:


OK, now we can let the Games begin. 


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