The 2014 Winter Olympics have kicked off with the Games’ opening ceremony in Sochi. Late in the ceremony, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared the 22nd Winter Games officially open.
The opening ceremony, being held at Sochi's brand new Fisht stadium on the shores of the Black Sea, began with something of a lesson in Russian culture and history. Keywords were depicted in graphics featuring children, including the leading figure, Lubov, or “love.”
Shortly after the ceremony began, Russian President Vladimir Putin and the president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Thomas Bach entered the VIP stand from separate doors, meeting in the middle, where they shook hands.
This was followed by the singing of the Russian national anthlem by a choir, as dozens of people, dressed in white, blue and red, took to the floor of the stadium, moving to simulate the country's flag blowing in the wind.
Höfl-Riesch bears Germany's flag
Then began the traditional march of the athletes into the stadium, starting with the Greek team. Germany's team entered the stadium early in the ceremony, behind the flag bearer and alpine skier Maria Höfl-Riesch.
The biggest cheer was reserved for the Russian Federation, which, as the home team, entered the stadium last.
More than two hours into the ceremony, President Putin stepped up to the microphone in the VIP stand to declare the Sochi Winter Games open.
This was followed by the raising of the Olympic flag, which was carried into the stadium by four famous Russian men and four famous Russian women, all dressed completely in white.
Opera soprano singer Anna Netrebko, backed by a male choir, sang the Olympic anthem as the flag was raised.
Dozens of heads of state or government, as well as United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, were among the 40,000 spectators who packed into the stadium. However, many Western leaders have elected to stay away, including US President Barack Obama and German President Joachim Gauck.
The games, which run until February 23, are being held under heavy security to due to fears of possible terrorist attack.
As the ceremonies were taking place, Turkish officials confirmed that a passenger on a plane flying from Ukraine to Istanbul, who claimed to have a bomb, had demanded that it be diverted to Sochi. The undersecretary at Turkey's transport ministry told private broadcaster NTV that the plane had landed safely in Istanbul.
Much of the media focus ahead of the Games was on Russia's human rights record, with a law passed last year, which prohibits the spread of "propaganda" promoting non-traditional sexual relationships, coming in for particular criticism.
pfd/ph (Reuters, dpa, AP)