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SOCHI, Russia ― The 2014 Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony was a dazzling journey through Russia’s past and future, turning the Fisht Stadium into a temple of vivid light displays and massive stage design on Friday night.
But in keeping with the rest of the Sochi Games’ experience thus far, it wasn’t without an infamous glitch.
At the start of the show, five large snowflakes were to transform into the five Olympic rings. Alas, only four made the transformation, making it appear as if the Sochi Games had a giant asterisk.
But hey, as the Vancouver Olympics showed us: No one's perfect. Especially in the Opening Ceremony.
The rest of the ceremony was a stirring tribute to the host nation’s history, geography and athletic and artistic achievement, utilizing more than 3,000 performers and several impressive set pieces.
Here are the most memorable moments of the Sochi Games Opening Ceremony:
1. Floating Worlds
The opening of the ceremony was a dream-like parade of different landmasses, representing Russia’s vast geography: from subtropical Sochi to the volcanic geysers to the mountain regions. They floated into the arena like massive zeppelins, while Lubov, the young girl whom the Opening Ceremony narrative was built around, floated by with a rope around the moon. It’s pretty much the closest we’ve seen an Olympic Opening Ceremony come to a Miyazaki film come-to-life.
2. The Athletes' Runway
In previous ceremonies, the Olympic parade of nations would enter the stadium from the sides, like a football team. But the Sochi Opening Ceremony offered a fantastic innovation: Having the athletes march up from the middle of the stadium floor, emerging from an ever-changing night-sky map of the world.
(Granted, this might just be so Vladimir Putin was given a better view, because they marched right toward his presidential box.)
The best effect: The first thing you saw was the flag of the nation peeking out through the opening, followed by the athletes, like troops being led into battle. The crowd would pop the moment they saw the colors of the nation.
3. The German "Protest"
The German Olympic Sports Confederation swears up and down that the team’s rainbow uniforms aren’t a reaction to the anti-gay propaganda laws enacted by Putin’s government. Their designer vows that they’re a colorful tribute to the 1972 Munich Games. But given the political climate in Sochi and the world’s reaction to the gay rights controversy, seeing the rainbow of Germans march into the stadium to deafening cheers was, if only symbolically, inspiring.
4. A Giant Animatronic Bear Greets the World in Sochi
Giant animatronic versions of bear, hare and snow leopard entered the arena to thrill many and freak out even more. The crowd waited breathlessly to hear if the large bear would say “Welcome to Sochi!” or “Bow down before me, your new honey-devouring master!”
We'd love to see this guy throw down with the Vancouver Olympics Space Bear.
5. The Snow Globe Comes to Life
One of the most eye-popping set pieces of the evening arrived in a segment based on the concept of a child’s snow globe.
As “snow” fell from the stadium roof ― it was a soapy foam, actually ― a circus of Cossack dancers, acrobats and others formed around brilliantly colored towers that eventually floated into the air to recreate St. Basil’s Cathedral. (We're looking at the image, and we'd like to remind you there are a reported 100,000 condoms available in the Olympic villages ... )
6. The Tribute To Tolstoy
It’s entirely appropriate if a segment based on “War and Peace” goes entirely too long, right? Luckily, this awesome moment in which more than a hundred dancers moved as one, creating human waves, was incredible.
7. The Torch Relay Ends
Finally, the big finish. Under large illuminated wireframe athletes ― “constellations” representing all the Winter Games ― the final participants in the torch relay took us home, including tennis star Maria Sharapova and hockey great Vladislav Tretyak.
(Oh, and one of the snowboard constellations didn’t light up. Such is Sochi.)
The torch was run out of the stadium, through all the costumed performers, into the Olympic Park. It ignited a small “wick,” which, in turn, set off a series of torches into the air, until the fire ran up the large tower, and the Olympic flame was sparked at the top. Amazing visual.
This led to ...
8. The Fireworks
The loudest, longest fireworks display we've ever seen. It might still be going on. A thunderous exclamation point on a memorable night for Russia.