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Olympics

With opening ceremony in the bag, Sochi Winter Olympics set to begin in earnest

The 22nd Winter Olympic Games are officially underway after the opening ceremony in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. Russian President Vladimir Putin used the event to declare the Games open.

The Sochi Winter Olympics officially began on Friday, with a three-hour long opening ceremony in which the organizers showcased Russian culture and history.

The ceremony culminated with two of Russia's Olympic legends, former Soviet national hockey team goaltender Vladislav Tretiak and former three-time gold medalist figure skater Irina Rodnina jogging out of the newly built Fitsch stadium to light the cauldron with the Olympic flame.

Just minutes earlier the Olympic flag had been raised inside the stadium, after being carried into the arena by eight famous Russians, four men and women lined up on either side.

Opera soprano singer Anna Netrebko, backed by a male choir, sang the Olympic anthem as the flag was raised.

Putin declares Games open

Russian President Vladimir Putin had declared the Games officially open a few minutes before that, making the declaration in Russian into a microphone on the VIP stand, where he was joined United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon,

International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach,

as well as dozens of other heads of state or government. They were among around 40,000 spectators who were in the stadium for the event, while millions followed the proceedings live on television around the world.

Sochi opening ceremony

Tretiak and Rodnina had to go for a jog to light the Olympic flame

While much of the ceremony used choreographed scenes and sound to depict events from Russia's history, a good part of it was also taken up by the customary entry of the athletes from the countries competing at the Games. As is tradition, the team from Greece, the cradle of the Olympics, entered first, while the biggest cheers were reserved for the Russian Federation, which, as the home team, entered the stadium last.

Germany, who entered quite early in the ceremony, were led out by Alpine skier

Maria Höfl-Riesch,

who had been named as the country's flag-bearer a day earlier.

Security concerns

The Olympics, which run until February 23, are being held under heavy security to due to fears of possible terrorist attack.

As the ceremony was 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 that prohibits the spread of "propaganda" promoting non-traditional sexual relationships, coming in for particular criticism.

Although the Games officially opened on Friday night, Russian time, some qualifying or preliminary competitions had actually begun on Thursday.

The Winter Olympics start in earnest on Saturday, with the first medals up for grabs.

pfd/dr (AP, Reuters, dpa)

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