OPENING CEREMONY SLIDESHOW: Click on the image above
So just what kind of spectacle does $51 billion buy? We're about to find out as the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi Games kicks off at Fisht Olympic Stadium under Vladimir Putin's watchful eye.
After all the countless words printed about corruption, human rights, stray dogs and missing shower curtains it'll be nice to finally see the world's athletes coming together to celebrate with the official start of competition. Here are seven things you should know about the Opening Ceremony.
The Opening Ceremony can't be viewed live over the air in the United States — you'll have to wait until NBC's primetime broadcast to watch all the splendor — but you can follow the proceedings as they happen here with Kevin Kaduk of Yahoo Sports. We'll be featuring the best photos, tweets and observations as the ceremony unfolds so keep refreshing your page for updates.
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11:06 a.m. ET: We're getting close ...
11:14: And we are live! The Opening Ceremony begins with a video that leaves no doubt where these games are being held. A little girl goes through the alphabet calling out some of the Russians who have contributed to world culture from Dostoyevsky to Tchaikovsky.
Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo Sports is at the stadium in Sochi and offers this nugget: "The entire opening ceremony was seen through the eyes of a little girl named Lubov (translation: “Love”), and as George Lucas can attest there’s no better decision than building a multi-million dollar production around a child."
11:19: Lubov's journey begins with nine different landscapes floating into the stadium. Impressive, though one of the five snowflakes designed to transform into the Olympic rings doesn't convert.
11:25: We have Putin! The first shot of the Russian president presiding over his Sochi Games is shown. The stadium cheers and the playing of the Russian national anthem follows.
11:29: The Russian flag is raised by a group of cosmonauts as on-the-field performers turn themselves into a waving Russian flag.
11:31: A highlight of the Olympic torch relay is being shown. Hey, where's the clip of the torch being relit by a cigarette lighter? Ah yes, here it is.
11:34: The parade of nations begins, as is tradition, with the Greeks.
11:40: When's the earliest time it's OK to kick back and enjoy this with a White Russian? Keep in mind it contains dairy, which has to count for something.
11:41: Bermuda's tradition works much better when the Games are held in a subtropical climate.
11:42: Oof. Careful there, Austria.
11:43: This is cool. Each country's map is show as its athletes are introduce.
11:45: NHL action is still going on, so don't expect to see many of your favorite pro hockey players when you tune in tonight.
11:47: The Germans have arrived. They're hard to miss.
11:52: The Canadians enter the stadium with women's hockey player Hayley Wickenheiser carrying the nation's flag. It's the country's largest ever team — 220 members.
11:53: Kazakhstan is in the house. High five!
11:58: The athletes are marching into electronica tracks spun by a Russian DJ who's onsite. After 30 minutes of this, I'm reminded of how much I don't miss the '90s.
12:00: Sad face. India's three athletes march into the stadium under the Olympic banner because of their country's dispute with the organization.
12:06: We're nearing the end of the parade, which features 88 nations and 2,800 athletes. Not quite as long as the Summer Games, which is a good thing.
12:09: Here come the Americans in their ugly Christmas sweaters, designed by Ralph Lauren! American athletes were told not to wear their gear en route to the Games. Now we know why.
12:20: Still have no idea how the Russian alphabet works, but here's Jamaica and Japan. Host Russia is up next and will conclude the march.
12:22: The stadium erupts in cheers as the Russian athletes enter the world's stage.
12:31: The athletes march concludes and we're treated to the introductions of the Sochi mascots. Go ahead and fill in your own stray dog joke right here.
12:33: Now some sort of weird origin video that my colleague Jay Busbee describes as Lord of the Rings-like. It's not as cool as it sounds, LOTR fans.
12:35: Donuts. Is there anything they can't do?
(Anyone else have a craving for a cruller right now?)
12:36: Ghost horses! Run!
12:42: The colorful fantasy of the Opening Ceremony is in stark contrast with the grim reality of a report with the attempted hijacking of a flight from Ukraine to Istanbul. Thankfully the plane is reported to be safely on the ground.
12:47: The retelling of War and Peace through dance? Settle in folks, we're going to be here awhile.
12:55: All snark aside, this segment on Russian history with the ballet and fake snow and great music is going to wow a lot of people tonight on NBC.
1:03: What's a Russian party without a hammer and a sickle? Apollo Creed spins in his grave.
(Those of you who had less than two hours in the over-under of my first Rocky IV reference, collect your winnings.)
1:06: What does a dog have to do to get any respect around here?
1:14: Sochi 2014 president Dmitry Chernyshenko welcomes the world to Russia with a droning speech. Recites the Games' motto "Hot. Cool. Yours," which makes me want a burger and Blizzard at Dairy Queen.
1:20: IOC president Thomas Bach now droning on.
1:25: All right! Bach now taking indirect shots at Putin and his government, speaking out against discrimination and preaching unity. Well done.
1:27: The Games, which already began on Thursday with several events, are officially declared open by Putin himself.
1:35: The Olympic anthem is played as the Olympic flag is raised.
1:41: The moment is drawing close but we still don't have a definitive answer on who will light the torch. Is this report right?
1:46: Holy speedskaters.
1:55: The flame is lit! Let the Games begin! Excellent ending by the Russians. Great choice to go with two of the greatest Russian Olympians of all time and a crazy dramatic buildup to the lighting of the cauldron.
Sochi took a lot of grief this week, but it stepped up for the Opening Ceremony.
Thanks for joining our live blog! Follow Fourth-Place Medal all games for the best in Olympic coverage. And come back tonight, when we'll be running a live chat during NBC's East Coast broadcast.
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