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Sochi opens 2014 Winter Olympics with some of everything

Updated: February 8, 2014 6:35PM



SOCHI, Russia — With a flying child, floating minarets, ballet dancers, human constellations, more than 3,000 performers and an alarmingly lifelike giant bear, Sochi put on what it called ‘‘the most complex and ambitious technical show ever attempted in Olympic history’’ to open the 22nd Winter Games on Friday night.

Legendary Soviet goaltender Vladislav Tretiak — a former Blackhawks goaltending consultant — raced out of Fisht Stadium to light the Olympic flame with three-time figure-skating gold medalist Irina Rodnina to cap the three-hour ceremony. Tennis star Maria Sharapova brought the torch out to begin the final leg of its 40,000-mile journey across Russia.

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach called this the first Games in ‘‘the new Russia,’’ but the ceremony was a surreal and artistic look back at the nation’s long and complicated history and culture, from Peter the Great to ‘‘War and Peace’’ to the Russian Revolution of 1917 to the Soviet era.

While much of the ceremony was simply eye-popping, there were a few eyebrow-raising moments, too. Rodnina, now a member of parliament in President Vladimir Putin’s party, was under fire last September for tweeting out a doctored photo of Barack and Michelle Obama staring at a banana. And in his speech right before Putin declared the Games open, Bach seemed to take a shot at Russia’s brutal anti-gay laws.

‘‘It is possible — even as competitors — to live together under one roof in harmony, with tolerance and without any form of discrimination for whatever reason,’’ Bach said. ‘‘Olympic Games are always about building bridges to bring people together. Olympic Games are never about erecting walls to keep people apart. Olympic Games are a sports festival embracing human diversity in great unity.’’

In the tradition of the botched torch-lightings in Vancouver, Sydney and Seoul, there was one technical snafu in the elaborate production, as five giant snowflakes were supposed to turn into the five Olympic rings — only for one to remain a snowflake. And a stray dog somehow wandered into the stadium mere minutes before the ceremony began.

But it hardly diminished the enthusiasm of the athletes, who paraded onto the stage from underneath as a world map projected on the floor lit up their nations.

‘‘Walking into the stadium is a crazy and powerful experience,’’ American snowboarder Taylor Gold said. ‘‘It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen, as clichéd as it sounds. There’s no other way of putting it.’’

Patrick Meek, a speed skater from Northbrook, tweeted that walking out with the American contingent was ‘‘one of the coolest moments of my life.’’

‘‘That was very impressive — the best show I’ve ever seen,’’ skier Erik Fisher said. ‘‘The Olympic spirit is certainly alive in Sochi.’’

Email : mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @MarkLazerus



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