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Tretiak, Rodnina light Olympic cauldron

  • The Sports Network
  • Published Friday, Feb. 7, 2014, at 9:04 a.m.
  • Updated Friday, Feb. 7, 2014, at 4:23 p.m.

Sochi, Russia (SportsNetwork.com) - The opening ceremony of the Sochi Winter Games began with a glitch and ended with two Russian sports legends lighting the Olympic cauldron.

Friday's spectacle played out as news surfaced that a plane had landed safely at a Turkish airport after a passenger on board allegedly issued a bomb threat and tried to have the aircraft redirected to Sochi.

That stoked already high fears that Vladimir Putin's Olympics are a target of terrorists, but the ceremony unfolded safely.

It was punctuated by hockey great Vladislav Tretiak and three-time Olympic gold medalist figure skater Irina Rodnina lighting the sweeping, spire-like Olympic cauldron outside of Fisht Olympic Stadium on the coast of the Black Sea.

Tretiak and Rodnina jogged out of the stadium and dipped the torch together, setting off a series of bursting flames that climbed to ignite the cauldron.

"Absolutely magical," U.S. figure skater Jason Brown tweeted.

Competition began Thursday, of course, but the most expensive Olympics in history didn't kick off in earnest until the lavish ceremony highlighting everything from Russian terrain to the arts, including ballet.

It opened with a performance celebrating Russia's geographic scope as seen through the eyes of a girl with floating islands carrying a village, trees, mountains and ice.

It hit an early snafu when one of five large snowflakes suspended over the floor failed to open into a ring, leaving the Olympics logo with four rings beside a snowflake floating on one side like an asterisk.

The gaffe echoed Vancouver's opening ceremony four years ago, where one of the four legs of the cauldron didn't rise into place.

It didn't help the perception that Sochi's games are still under construction, a view bolstered by tales of hotels with falling lights and broken doors and water that is unsafe to drink.

"There is no greater metaphor for the Sochi Games than something being broken and missing," Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan tweeted during the ceremony.

On a more serious note, Turkey was forced to scramble an F-16 fighter jet to force a plane to land after pilots sent a signal that it was being hijacked, according to the Wall Street Journal.

A Turkish transportation official described the alleged attempted hijacker as a "citizen of Ukraine," the paper reported. The flight from Kharkov, Ukraine, landed at its intended destination at Istanbul's Sabiha Gokcen Airport.

Putin, the Russian president who has pledged that the Olympics will be safe, sat next to International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach, who is presiding over his first games.

Next to Bach was United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, whose speech Thursday at an IOC session voiced support for LGBT rights around the world.

The Russian pop duo t.A.T.u. -- known for their faux-lesbian performances -- performed during the pre-ceremony, an oddity considering the country's recently passed laws aimed at keeping gay "propaganda" away from children.

After praising Russian organizers for their "determination and commitment to the Olympics" and thanking workers, Bach seemed to take a shot at Russia's anti-gay laws.

He spoke about "building bridges to bring people together" and not "erecting walls to keep people apart" and said the games were about embracing diversity.

Bach then introduced Putin, who stood at a microphone to declare the games open.

The Olympic flag bearers included another hockey great, Viacheslav Fetisov, and the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova.

Sochi's Olympic flame traveled farther than any other, even going into space. Tennis player Maria Sharapova carried it into the stadium, where it was passed off several times before being handed over to Tretiak.

Earlier, nations entered the stadium in alphabetical order as usual except for Greece, which traditionally goes first as the home of the Olympics; and the Russians, who went last per custom as the hosts.

Nordic combined athlete Todd Lodwick, competing in his sixth Olympics, carried the U.S. flag.

The American team, the largest in the history of the Winter Olympics, wore colorful cardigans designed by Ralph Lauren -- a patchwork of red, white and blue -- on top of white fleece pants and black leather boots with red laces.

"That was definitely one of the most amazing things I've ever done," U.S. snowboarder Arielle Gold said afterward. "I think the fact that I'm at the Olympics has finally set in."

The outfits have drawn snickers -- particularly the cardigans, which have been likened to bad Christmas sweaters or to something someone's grandmother might knit. But they appeared to have their supporters.

"Red, white and blue! Have you ever seen anything so beautiful?!?" tweeted U.S. luger Jayson Terdiman along with a picture of American athletes entering the stadium in their outfits.

Women's hockey player Hayley Wickenheiser carried Canada's flag, leading the team wearing red coats and black pants.

The Sochi mascots -- a polar bear on ice skates, a rabbit on skis, a leopard on a snowboard -- entered the stadium as giant figures and moved to the center of the floor.

The region's history played out in what has become an opening ceremony trope. The onion domes of Moscow's Saint Basil's Cathedral bounced along the floor and spectators were treated to a ballet of the Tolstoy novel "War and Peace."

The Russian Revolution was represented in the segment, the hammer and sickle made an appearance and space exploration was celebrated.

After Putin's address, there was a performance set to Tchaikovsky's ballet "Swan Lake."

Sochi Organizing Committee chief Dmitry Chernyshenko said Sochi is "unique as all of Russia is unique" and described the host city as a place where Europe and Asia meet.

Many world leaders stayed away, including U.S. President Barack Obama, who sent a delegation that included openly gay athletes.

The ceremony began at 8:14 p.m. local time but the U.S. audience had to wait until NBC's primetime broadcast to see it. The network did not stream it live online.

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