The focal point of every Olympic Opening Ceremony is the moment the cauldron is lit. The person chosen to light the torch holds a place of high honor in his or her country, and this year, the honor went to two legendary Russian athletes.
Tennis star Maria Sharapova entered the arena carrying the torch, beginning a procession of Russian athletic legends. She handed the torch to Yelena Isinbaeva, who handed it to wrestler Alexander Karelin, who passed it to gymnast Alina Kabaeva. From there, figure skater Irina Rodnina and hockey goalie Vladislav Tretiak, both three-time gold medalists, lit the cauldron together in a spectacular pyrotechnic display.
Tretiak is widely considered to be one of the greatest goalies in hockey history. He won three gold medals as part of the Soviet Union team in 1972, 1976 and 1984. He won silver in 1980, the year of the United States’ "Miracle on Ice." He was drafted by the Montreal Canadiens in 1983, but the Soviet government blocked his departure. More recently, he has coached an entire generation of NHL goalies, including Dominik Hasek and Ed Belfour. He has served in public office and as the head of the Russian Ice Hockey Federation.
Rodnina is one of the most decorated figure skaters in history. She won three straight gold medals, from 1972 to 1980, in pairs skating. She also won 10 world championships and 11 European championships during the 1970s. Since 2005, she has served in Russia’s Civic Chamber, which advises the government. In 2013, she drew international criticism when she tweeted a photo of President Barack Obama with a digitally manipulated banana in the foreground; she claimed free expression, but others viewed it as racist.
An early rumor had held that Kabaeva, widely rumored in Russia to be President Vladimir Putin's girlfriend, would be the one to light the torch. As it was, she was one of the torchbearers, still a curiously high position for someone who, while she has won one gold and one bronze, is hardly one of Russian's most distinguished Olympic athletes.
The cauldron lighting concluded a ceremony that started rocky but soon settled into a model of precision and grace.
To give a sense of the scale of the Olympic cauldron, note the three workers atop it:
And the Olympic Games are now underway!
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