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Seven things you should know about the Sochi Olympics opening ceremony

Mike Oz
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Outside an opening ceremony rehearsal in Sochi. (AP)

The competition may have already started at the Sochi Games, but let's face it, the Olympics don't really get started until we're wowed by the opening ceremony.

In recent years, they've gotten bigger, more lavish and more impressive. Friday's "Welcome to Sochi" event at Fisht Stadium promises to be no different. It'll be a celebration of Russia, and the rest of the world too, but mostly Russia. 

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There's a lot to know about the opening ceremony — tops on that list, how do you watch them? — so we've put together this guide of seven things you should know about the Sochi Games opening ceremony.

1. You can't watch live in the U.S.
As you know, the opening ceremony is, to many people, the most interesting part of the games. As such, NBC is trying to put all American eyes on its primetime telecast. The network isn't streaming the ceremony live online like it is the rest of the Olympics events. Want to watch it? You'll have to tune in at 7:30 p.m. ET. Word is, however, if you're good enough at navigating the Internet, you might be able to find an online feed.

2. Russia is going all out.
In recent Olympics, host countries have been upping the ante on opening ceremony excess. The ceremony in Bejiing in 2008, for example, featured 14,000 performers. The Sochi edition is reported to include 3,500 fireworks and a performance from the pop duo tATu. Russia is approaching these Olympics, and therefore its opening ceremony, as a way to tell the world that "Russia is back." So you can expect that no expense will be spared.

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Fireworks are shot over Fisht Olympic Stadium, right, and Adler Arena, left, at the conclusion of a rehearsal for …

3. We don't know exactly what's going to happen — and that's on purpose.
You can't give away all the surprises before the big show. Of course, by the time it airs in the United States, anybody with an Internet connect will be able to find out what happened, if they so desire. That fact aside, here's some of what the Russians have planned, via the Wall Street Journal:

The roster for the ceremony on Feb. 7 is under wraps until Friday. But insiders say Russia is likely to show off its music and ballet history as well its considerable lineup of famous composers and artists, from Tchaikovsky to Rachmaninoff and Tolstoy.

Valery Gergiev, one of the world's busiest classical music conductors, is expected to perform at the opening ceremony, according to the Russian newspaper Izvestia. Mr. Gergiev has almost no equivalent in the U.S.: More than the artistic and general head of the prestigious Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, he is a confidant of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russian ballet is experiencing a particularly strong moment. The Mariinsky's principal dancer Ulyana Lopatkina, who has been celebrated for her title role in "Swan Lake" as well as contemporary ballets, is likely to perform. Also slated to dance, according to a person with knowledge of the ceremony, is Diana Vishneva, an international ballet superstar who is a principal of the Mariinsky and American Ballet Theatre.

4. Vladimir Putin is going to be there.
This is his party, so of course he'll be watching every second of it. At a recent rehearshal, there was even someone put in place to watch it as if he were Putin. That tells us that it's important that a certain head honcho isn't disappointed by what he sees. One more Putin-related thing to watch for. It's been rumored that his purported girlfriend, Alina Kabayeva, the 2004 rhythmic gymnastics gold medalist, will get the honor of lighting the Olympic flame. Hmmm. We'll see.

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Putin in 2007 (AP)

5. Opening ceremonies have a big price tag.
We don't know exactly yet how much money will be poured into the opening ceremony. But we know the bill to throw these things is usually huge and Russia is spending $50 billion for these Olympics, so this is no time to skimp. At the 2012 London Games, the opening ceremony alone cost a reported $42 million. The Bejiing Games in 2008 had a ceremony that cost an estimated $100 million. Whatever the Sochi price is, it would have paid for a lot of nesting dolls.

6. Eyes will be on the flag bearers.
Each country will have someone carrying their flag during the parade of nations. The U.S. flag bearer is skier Todd Lodwick. The host nation's flag bearer is Alexander Zubkov, a Russian bobsled star and medal candidate.

7. It's kind of like a fashion show.
In addition to the theatrics, performances and fireworks, another thing that will have people abuzz is the outfits worn by each country. To some nations — the U.S. included — the opening ceremony is treated like a fashion show. Here is their outfit, designed by Ralph Lauren.

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(Team USA)

You can be sure you'll see post-opening ceremony lists ranking who had the best and worst outfits, like this was New York Fashion Week. We can't wait to see what Norway wears.

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Mike Oz is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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