Performers with balloons representing St. Basil's cathedral.
Clive Mason / Getty Images
By Andrew Katz and Ishaan Tharoor
February 7, 2014

The Opening Ceremony of the Winter Olympics concluded in Sochi, Russia with a vivid display of fireworks and two legendary Russian ex-Olympians lighting the cauldron. The spectacle may not remove the problems that clouded the build-up to the tournament: political controversies, terrorism fears and concerns over the venue’s preparedness remain. The Russians so far have responded with glum defiance; others still question the morality of holding the Games at this Black Sea resort. But that all now takes a backseat as the Games begin. Below is TIME’s live coverage of the glittering event.

Olympic Critics Turn Sochi’s Opening Gala into a Pity Party


1:55 p.m. | The cauldron at Sochi has been lit.

Darron Cummings / AP

The Olympic Cauldron is lit during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, on Feb. 7.


1:54 p.m. | The other ex-Olympian who lit the flame was Vladislav Tretiak, the legendary goaltender for the Soviet Union who is considered perhaps the best ever to play his position. He never played in the NHL, but did have an unfortunate turn in the famous “Miracle on Ice” hockey game.


1:52 p.m.

The woman lighting the Olympic flame is Irina Rodnina, the woman who tweeted a shockingly racist picture of Obama with a banana.

— Julia Ioffe (@juliaioffe) February 7, 2014


1:51 p.m.

The woman rumored to be Putin's girlfriend Alina Kabayeva one of the #olympics2014 torchbearers. in #Russia

— Matt Gutman (@mattgutmanABC) February 7, 2014


1:42 p.m.

David J. Phillip / AP

Actors perform “Swan Lake” during the opening ceremony.


1:37 p.m.


1:29 p.m. | Russian President Vladimir Putin: briefly opens the Winter Olympics: “I pronounce these Games open.”


1:26 p.m. | Yep, that’s Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s Prime Minister, sleeping during the Opening Ceremony:

Not only is Medvedev five seats down from Putin, but he's sleeping. Who remembers the Vlad-Dima tandem now? pic.twitter.com/202FsRTVLu @tvjihad

— Simon Shuster (@shustry) February 7, 2014


1:17 p.m.

Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Artists perform during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, on Feb. 7, 2014.


1:14 p.m.

TIME’s correspondent in Sochi sums up the historical gloss we just watched at the Opening Ceremony:

If that was an artistic rendition of Russian history, they took a lot of license. No perestroika. A few snippets of WW2.

— Simon Shuster (@shustry) February 7, 2014


1:12 p.m.

HOW HWEE YOUNG / EPA

Lubov, the so-called ‘Hero Girl,’ is lifted up on strings at the start of the Opening Ceremony.

Mark Humphrey / AP

Artists perform during the opening ceremony.


1:08 p.m.

Unlike Beijing, this opening ceremony is all done for the domestic audience. What foreigners would get any of these references?

— Simon Shuster (@shustry) February 7, 2014


1:06 p.m.

Some of the Brazilians at #Sochi2014 were born in Brazil but raised abroad. Media here affectionately call them the delegation's *gringos*

— Simon Romero (@viaSimonRomero) February 7, 2014


1:02 p.m.

Alright, doubling down on the Sergei Eisenstein aesthetic now. Where did the cuddly leopards and teddies go?

— Simon Shuster (@shustry) February 7, 2014


12:59 p.m.

I think at this point no one's worried about the toilet in their hotel room.

— Ellen Barry (@EllenBarryNYT) February 7, 2014

Seeing the #OpeningCeremony live is even more surreal than I expected #cbcolympics pic.twitter.com/fqFFZmhYW6

— MoniKa Platek (@MonikaPlatek) February 7, 2014


12:58 p.m.

Jim Young / Reuters

Performers are seen during the opening ceremony.


12:57 p.m.

War and Peace, Tolstoy. Tolstoy, Train. Train, constructivism. See what they did there? Makes total sense. #Sochi

— Simon Shuster (@shustry) February 7, 2014


12:51 p.m.

Tolstoy's 'War and Peace' told via the medium of dance #OpeningCeremony #Sochi2014 pic.twitter.com/o9ISU3LdF3

— Sochi 2014 (@Sochi2014) February 7, 2014

Ok, I'm digging the baroque literary recreations. War and Peace at Sochi now.

— Ishaan Tharoor (@ishaantharoor) February 7, 2014


12:50 p.m. | Reports have surfaced that a flight from Ukraine bound for Istanbul was grounded and searched by Turkish security forces after a passenger claimed a bomb was aboard the aircraft. The alleged bomber reportedly tried to divert the flight to Sochi.


12:47 p.m.

Don't know if those canon explosions came through on NBC. But a bit too loud for a crowd this jumpy from all the toothpaste bomber talk

— Simon Shuster (@shustry) February 7, 2014


12:43 p.m. | So far in Sochi’s grand-narration of Russian history, we’ve seen flying horses, ancient Greeks and Vikings. But no mention yet of the Circassians— the people indigenous to Sochi forced into exile in the 19th century. — Ishaan Tharoor

Long before the punk-rock group Pussy Riot or global gay-rights activists sought a boycott of the Olympics, a forgotten community clamored loudly against the events in Sochi. The Circassians, whose history of dispossession and exile Umarov opportunistically invoked, are a scattered, largely Muslim people native to the Caucasus, now found mostly outside of Russia in Turkey and parts of the Middle East. Their original homeland stretches from the eastern rim of the Black Sea — where Sochi sits — to the rugged western highlands of the Caucasus, but few of its indigenous inhabitants remain there.


12:40 p.m.

Welcome to #Sochi2014 #OpeningCeremony Peter the Great! pic.twitter.com/SSQRi92sgR

— Sochi 2014 (@Sochi2014) February 7, 2014


12:38 p.m.

David J. Phillip / AP

The Olympic mascots are seen during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, on Feb. 7, 2014.


12:34 p.m. | A video montage charting Russia’s origins and epic history just ended. It’s followed by imagery of the symbolic Russian troika, a three horse-drawn chariot:

The Troika was the method of transport across Russia in the 18th century #OpeningCeremony pic.twitter.com/txE3KVdtEO

— Sochi 2014 (@Sochi2014) February 7, 2014


12:29 p.m.

Meet the official #Sochi2014 Mascots: Bear, Hare and Leopard! #OpeningCeremony #Sochi2014 pic.twitter.com/Jpb2lBNQpP

— Sochi 2014 (@Sochi2014) February 7, 2014


12:25 p.m.

Okay. I wrote about Russian stereotypes, but there's a guy marching in the Russian delegation...talking on his cell phone. #OpeningCeremony

— Julia Ioffe (@juliaioffe) February 7, 2014


12:24 p.m. | Russian pop duo t.A.T.u. just played Team Russia into the procession, which may seem like an odd choice: the two found success in the early 2000s with the single ‘All the Things She Said,’ the video of which showed the girls wearing school uniforms and kissing in the rain.

And t.A.T.u. plays Team Russia out

— Megan Gibson (@MeganJGibson) February 7, 2014

Ok, t.A.T.u is playing as Team Russia comes out. That settles the whole gay propaganda issue then, right? maybe?

— Simon Shuster (@shustry) February 7, 2014


12:23 p.m.

More strategic Olympic seating: A cluster of 'Stans is always safer than spreading them around pic.twitter.com/yhP00WXip2 via @gkates

— Simon Shuster (@shustry) February 7, 2014


12:22 p.m. | Not so ‘Cool Runnings’: The Jamaican bobsled team just marched. They had to raise money on the Internet to make it to Sochi.

Jamaica is in the house! #CoolRunnings #Sochi2014 pic.twitter.com/lB0SUVGrnL

— Sochi 2014 (@Sochi2014) February 7, 2014


12:19 p.m. | An overhead shot of Team America marching in the procession:

Robert F. Bukaty / AP

Athletes from the United States wave to spectators as they arrive.


12:16 p.m. Team Ukraine is marching in Fischt Stadium. The two countries have seen closer ties since Ukraine’s President snubbed a trade and association deal with the European Union in November to instead pivot toward Russia. Since then, violent clashes have rocked the capital Kiev.

Team Ukraine gets the loudest cheer I've heard so far. #euromaidan #sochi

— Simon Shuster (@shustry) February 7, 2014


12:14 p.m. | The Boston Bruins’ giant defenseman Zdeno Chara led out Team Slovakia:

"The man they call Big Z, Zdeno Chara, the tallest professional ice hockey player in the NHL in North America" - BBC pic.twitter.com/Q8dKYZw0Hi

— Bonk's Mullet (@BonksMullet) February 7, 2014


12:09 p.m. | The American Olympians have arrived and are marching:

[https://twitter.com/Sochi2014/status/431837563108986880]


12:08 p.m.


12:06 p.m. | Here’s the reason why India’s three contestants marched under the Olympic flag and not that of their nation:

The IOC gave India until February 7 to vote in new, untainted leadership, but India’s Olympic Association scheduled a vote on February 9, two days after the opening ceremony. As a result, India’s athletes will have to parade as “independents” under a generic Olympic flag.


12:02 p.m.

10 #LGBT protesters arrested at Red Square in Moscow the minute #Sochi2014 has started
via @EvgenyFeldman pic.twitter.com/61MYJehqrA

— Maxim Eristavi (@MaximEristavi) February 7, 2014


11:59 a.m. | Interesting seating arrangement!

Presidential seating arrangement slam: Ukraine all lonely behind Belarus and Armenia. via @Ukroblogger pic.twitter.com/uKN4RjMOlo

— Simon Shuster (@shustry) February 7, 2014


11:56 a.m. | If you’re tracking the politics of the ceremony so far, TIME counts a very robust Sochi cheer for Venezuela, whose government enjoys thumbing its nose at the U.S. Deathly silence when the Georgian team marched. Next door to Sochi, Georgia fought a war with Russia half a decade ago and riles the leadership in Moscow. — Ishaan Tharoor


11:55 a.m.

Unsurprisingly, the Canadian team is the biggest with 221 athletes

— Megan Gibson (@MeganJGibson) February 7, 2014


11:52 a.m.

& the fairytale begins... #OpeningCeremony #Sochi2014 pic.twitter.com/BlYnmPgNdC

— Olga Khmylev (@OlgaKhmylev) February 7, 2014


11:49 a.m. | A member of Austria’s Olympic team fell during the procession

ANDREJ ISAKOVIC / AFP / Getty Images

A member of Austria’s delegation lies on the ground after falling during the Opening Ceremony on Feb. 7, 2014 in Sochi.


11:42 a.m.

There are a heck of a lot of empty seats at the #OpeningCeremony in #Sochi2014.

— Julia Ioffe (@juliaioffe) February 7, 2014


11:41 a.m.

The team members parade has begun with #TeamGreece Guess who is going to be last? #OpeningCeremony pic.twitter.com/EaFLmra9RO

— Sochi 2014 (@Sochi2014) February 7, 2014


11:40 a.m.

The athletes of each nation are marching out now in procession. TIME’s Simon Shuster describes the scene: “The athletes start marching out onto the stage as a large ring of people in what look to be marshmallow suits clap and do a little two-step dance, swaying back and forth. Not quite the Beijing opening ceremony, but at least they are more or less synchronized. Which is cool.”


11:25 a.m. | Wardrobe malfunction?

Four Olympic Rings? pic.twitter.com/2KxCykGV5o

— Nick Zaccardi (@nzaccardi) February 7, 2014

Here's what those rings were supposed to look like #gcamSochi pic.twitter.com/14Tj5tovKJ

— Owen Gibson (@owen_g) February 7, 2014


11:23 a.m. | We’re being taken on a tour of Russia’s time zones. Does it really need nine of them? We looked at the issue last month:

In 2010, Moscow trimmed the number of zones down to nine (some experts think just four would suffice), but considerable quirks remain: for example, though Russia’s Asiatic port of Vladivostok sits clearly to the west of Japan, the time there is two hours ahead of Tokyo.


11:20 a.m. | Turkish Olympians pose with an official Sochi mascot


11:05 a.m.

Ready. Set. #OpeningCeremony. About to begin here in Sochi. Watch on @NBC at 7:30pm ET #GoTeamUSA pic.twitter.com/OpMIJRy2qt

— Team USA (@TeamUSA) February 7, 2014


11:00 a.m. | The Opening Ceremony has begun.

Damien Meyer / AFP / Getty Images

A military choir performs during the Opening Ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympics at the Fisht Olympic Stadium in Sochi, Russia, on Feb. 7.


One hour before the Opening Ceremony began, TIME’s Simon Shuster recounted the lead-up. Follow him on Twitter @shustry for more:

19:15 One hour to go till the opening ceremony. The announcer calls in the hosts into the stadium, Ivan Urgant and Yana Churikova, who ride out, somewhat anticlimactically, in a golf cart. No disco lights or anything.

Churikova goes all in: “Welcome to the center of the universe!” I guess Russia was never really known for modesty.

19:17: They hop back into their golf cart and ride back off stage. A Russian pop song comes on.

19:20 The golf cart’s back, running laps around the stage with a news camera in toe. Apropos of nothing, a recording starts to play of the words “Welcome to Sochi” in about a dozen different languages. (Or so I assume from the languages I understand.)

Just a few minutes in, and Urgant attempts his first joke. “The people of Sochi are really unique,” he says. “They speak all the languages of the world. But only two phrases. “Welcome,” and, “Sorry, I don’t have any change.” Falls a bit flat. In the English translation, not clear if he’s talking about panhandlers or check-out clerks at the liquor store.

19:24. So then. Nothing to kill an awkward moment like a Queen song, especially one song with a Russian accent. “We are the Champions!”

19:27 Urgant: “Now we’re going to reveal a secret of the opening ceremony. The hero is a little girl, and her name is Love.”

Wait, it gets cheesier.

“I’m overflowing with love right now,” Urgant blubbers. “Can I hug you?” Yana accepts. “Cameraman, can I hug you?” The cameraman accepts.

Then it gets weird.

You know the kissing game they do at the ballpark with the jumbotron? Right. Usually they only zoom in on couples in the stands. Not in Russia.

“Hugs!” Urgant shouts. “Hug everyone!” The camera pans around to the press box. Confusion descends. “Everyone hug your neighbor! You, lonely cameraman, yes, you! Hug the person next to you!” The poor guy concedes.

19:30 Rough transition back to song. Churikova: “There is a Russian tradition that when you hear this song you have to hug someone.” I grew up in Russia and I’m pretty sure there is no such tradition. Anyway, the song was nice.

19:36. Cue the golf cart. Urgant: “Now let me tell you how everyone can become a part of these Games.” Well, at least everyone in the stadium. Urgant pulls a trick from Opera Winfrey’s hat. Everyone is told to reach under their seat and get a light-emitting medal to put around their necks. They all start flickering the Russian tricolor, which looks pretty awesome. For some reason, Churikova feels the need to add, “Don’t worry [the medals] are absolutely harmless for your health.”

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