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February 08, 2014

Sochi Olympics Begin With Spectacular Opening Ceremony

by Mike Richman

Competition begins in earnest Saturday at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia's Black Sea resort city of Sochi. The Games kicked off Friday with a glitzy opening ceremony that organizers hoped would paint a shining image of post-Soviet Russia.

Brand-new Fisht Olympic Stadium was a sea of Russian color and pageantry Friday.  

There, the opening ceremony for the Sochi Olympics featured Russian music, plus ballet stars, acrobats and cosmonauts, and many other entertainers.

Athletes from the more than 80 nations competing in Sochi packed the 40,000-seat stadium, as did Olympic fans from all over the world.

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World leaders

More than 40 world leaders were in attendance, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

VOA Moscow bureau chief James Brooke was also there. He spoke to VOA by Skype.

“Yes, it was really a celebration that Russia’s back, a celebration of Russian pride, stretching through 400 years of Russian history, from Peter the Great building the navy, all the way up to the Soviet cosmonauts exploring space," said Brooke. "There were ballerinas; there were references to the classical authors Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, music by Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky.  Very stirring, and huge applause by the crowd of 40,000.”

After the customary lighting of the Olympic torch, an amazing fireworks show brightened the night sky with the event reaching its conclusion.

"A spectacular collection of fireworks that went off in just many minutes," said Brooke. "One person commented to me, 'I think that’s why we had a lousy fireworks display in my hometown. They sent all the fireworks to Sochi.' They just went on and on and on lighting up the Black Sea skyscape here. Really spectacular.”

Security issues

On the security front Friday, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach said it is unfair to single out the Sochi Games as facing a particular threat.

"You can maybe not imagine how many threats there were on each of the Games before. We had threats on Sydney, we had threats on Athens. Maybe you remember the situation in Salt Lake City. There were many [threats], so you cannot single out these Games in this way," said Bach.

Russian security forces are on high alert following threats by Islamic extremists to carry out attacks and disrupt the Games.

Analysts have warned of possible attacks against soft targets, such as train stations and other areas where civilians congregate.