Spectacular start to Sochi Games

Preston and Leyland Citizen: Fireworks are seen over the Olympic Park during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi (AP) Fireworks are seen over the Olympic Park during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi (AP)

The Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics were declared officially open by Russian president Vladimir Putin at a lavish ceremony in which International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach called for "goodwill, tolerance, excellence and peace".

The showpiece at the Fisht Olympic Stadium began at 2014 local time last night, featured former world heavyweight champion boxer Nikolai Valuev and tennis star Maria Sharapova, and was preceded by a warm-up segment that included a performance by controversial pop act t.A.T.u.

The duo, Lena Katina and Julia Volkova, sang a Russian version of their hit single Not Gonna Get Us, holding hands on the stage and surrounded by Games volunteers.

The single, which reached number seven in the UK charts in 2003, lyrically depicted the pair as teenage runaways-in-love and the duo's image appeared to directly contradict Russia's hard-line laws on "non-traditional" sexuality, which are widely seen as an attack on gay rights.

During the proceedings, Mr Bach thanked workers for their efforts in preparing Sochi for the Games, as well as the volunteers and residents of the Krasnodar regions.

He then delivered a message to the "political leaders of the world", saying: "T hank you for supporting your athletes, they are the best ambassadors of your country.

"Please respect their Olympic message of goodwill, of tolerance, of excellence and of peace. Have the courage to address your disagreements in a peaceful, direct political dialogue and not on the backs of these athletes."

He added: "The universal Olympic rules apply to each and every athlete, no matter where you come from or what your background is. You are living together in the Olympic village. You will celebrate victory with dignity and accept defeat with dignity. You are bringing the Olympic values to life.

"In this way, the Olympic Games, wherever they take place, set an example for a peaceful society. Olympic sport unites the people."

Bach then handed over to Mr Putin, who announced from the stands: "I declare open the Olympic Winter Games of Sochi."

The Games in the south-west coastal resort have cost Russia £30 billion to stage and there was plenty of evidence of the money that had been spent on the opening ceremony, labelled by organisers as "the most complex and ambitious technical show ever attempted in Olympic history".

An early hiccup occurred when one of five rings brought together in mid-air to form the Olympic symbol failed to light properly.

But overall, those watching in the arena and around the world were treated to an impressive show full of spectacular visuals and elaborate choreography.

It was designed as a depiction of the history of Russia as seen through the dreams of a young girl named Lubov, meaning Love, and focused on the country's past, present and future.

Entitled Dreams of Russia, the show incorporated historical figures, mythological images and Russian dance, while one of the sections saw Valuev make an appearance as a policeman called Uncle Styopa.

There was also the traditional Parade of Nations, in which athletes emerged from out of the floor in the centre of the stadium.

Team GB was led by flagbearer Jon Eley and the host nation - last out - had bobsledder Alexander Zubkov in the role.

Eley's fellow British short track speed skater Jack Whelbourne said: "I was pumped marching in.

"The stadium is amazing. It was a great feeling. It was also special to line up behind Jon and have a short-tracker carrying the flag."

Kristan Bromley, part of GB's skeleton team, said: "There was a lot of energy in the stadium and this is a great start to the Games.

"We had a really warm welcome. It's a proud moment to walk into the stadium behind your flag. It brings it all home."

The ceremony concluded with the Olympic cauldron being lit via the torch, which four-time Grand Slam champion Sharapova carried into the stadium.

Two Olympic gold medallists, figure skater Irina Rodnina and hockey player Vladislav Tretyak, completed the final action with the torch that sent the flame up to the cauldron.

Sochi 2014 organisers said 66 leaders including heads of state and international organisations would attend the ceremony, with United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon and the respective leaders of China and Japan joining Putin.

But a number of world leaders were notably not attending, including Barack Obama, David Cameron and Angela Merkel.

In the post-ceremony briefing, Sochi 2014 ceremonies producer Konstantin Ernst dismissed the Olympic rings malfunction as a minor blip in an otherwise flawless display.

He said: "Of all five Olympic rings, one hasn't opened up unfortunately.

"It would be ridiculous to focus on this ring that never opened, it would be simply silly.

"In Buddhism, there is an idea that if you have a perfectly polished ball, keep one part tarnished in order to understand how perfectly polished the rest of it is.

"The rings were the simplest technical part of the show, so if you consider the rest of the technical side, it was the most complicated show ever.

"The rest of the technical side was just immaculate, and this was a tiny unpolished part of the ball in order to see how perfect the rest of the show was."

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