The Sochi Winter Olympics are set to get underway Thursday -- but before the sporting events really start to get heated, there's a another kind of spectacle to enjoy: The opening ceremony, a time-honored tradition of national pride wherein host countries very literally make a show of one-upping whichever nation held the previous Games.
What time is the opening ceremony?
The opening ceremony will actually happen Friday, Feb. 7 at 11 a.m. EST, but NBC decided it will delay airing the spectacle in the U.S. until 7:30 p.m. Weirdly, this is actually a day after the athletic competitions begin.
How can I watch?
If you've got a television, you'll find the opening ceremony on your local NBC affiliate at 7:30 p.m EST. NBC is live-streaming every single Winter Olympics sporting event on its website and mobile apps, but alas, it's not streaming the opening ceremony. Aereo, if it's available in your area, provides an Internet-based option for those sans-TV. Otherwise, call up your local sports bar and see if they're playing the ceremony.
What's Russia got planned?
It's hard to say exactly what's hiding behind the Iron Curtain. There was a fireworks test this week, so we can safely expect some Putin-approved pyrotechnics. Daniel Ezralow, a Broadway choreographer famous for Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, is leading a cast of about 80 professional dancers and hundreds of volunteers in a performance about "20th-century Russia," he told People, so look out for performers with MAD dance moves, we guess.
Russia's world-famous for its classical composers, and several top contemporaries are expected to play a role in the opening ceremony. Russian pop band t.A.T.u, two teenagers who semi-pretended to be lesbians and were briefly crazy-popular in the mid-2000s, is rumored to be playing, whatever such a thing might say about Russia's treatment of gay people. No word on an appearance by Springfield, Missouri indie-pop rockers Somebody Still Loves You, Boris Yeltsin -- but we're crossing our пальцы.
What's up with the Parade of Nations?
The Parade of Nations is one of the best known Olympic spectacles. It's when all the athletes representing their respective countries in the Games get to walk around an arena decked out in patriotic colors while in alphabetical order by country name. That last part is very important -- if a country leaves alphabetical order, it's automatically disqualified from the Games. Or so I'm told.
This year there's a twist: The countries will be introduced in alphabetical order according to their Russian spelling. Per Olympic tradition, Greece goes first, alphabet be damned. In Sochi, thanks to Cyrillic, Ireland is relieved of its typical role as an awkward buffer between Iran, Iraq and Israel. Russia, as the host nation, will go last.
Who's carrying the Stars and Stripes?
That'll be 36-year old Todd Lodwick, a Nordic combined skier who's been to the Olympics six times.
And the flame? What's the deal?
Arguably the most important part of the opening ceremonies is the lighting of the official Olympic flame, which symbolizes Prometheus' theft of fire from the Greek god Zeus (and the 2012 film Prometheus' theft of my $12.75). Part of Olympics tradition is that the torch makes a relay trip around the world before it's used to light the flame at the opening ceremonies. Before this year's games, the Olympic torch (used to light the flame) went on its longest pre-Games relay in Olympic history, traveling to the North Pole, Europe's highest mountain peak and the International Space Station. Sadly, one torchbearer died of a heart attack shortly after carrying the torch through a part of western Siberia.
A double-rumor-with-a-twist this year: Russian President Vladimir Putin's supposed girlfriend, a former Olympics champion, is rumored to be lighting the Olympic flame this year. This Olympics has more rumors than Fleetwood Mac.
How long will this thing be?
Previous ceremonies have clocked in at around four hours, or about half the length of the average Lord of the Rings Director's Cut.
Will this be as British as the 2012 opening ceremony?
Not even in the slightest. The opening ceremony for 2012's Summer Olympics had a distinctly British flavor, with polite nods to British history, jokes about Queen Elizabeth and appearances by famous British rockers The Who. Russia's show, while still largely under wraps, will be much more, well, Russian. Expect classical music, ballerinas and, who knows, maybe even bears.
Who's Russia trying to beat?
China. China's opening ceremony was outstanding.