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Published: Saturday, 2/8/2014 - Updated: 5 months ago

Errant snowflake fails to tarnish Russia’s glow

Pyrotechnics, pageantry open winter games

BY J. BRADY McCOLLOUGH
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE
Fireworks light the sky over Olympic Park during Friday’s opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.  It was proclaimed the ‘most complex and ambitious technical show ever attempted in Olympic history.’ Fireworks light the sky over Olympic Park during Friday’s opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. It was proclaimed the ‘most complex and ambitious technical show ever attempted in Olympic history.’
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SOCHI, Russia — For those looking to seize on every gaffe of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Olympics, there it was, just minutes into the opening ceremony, which was proclaimed the “most complex and ambitious technical show ever attempted in Olympic history.”

In one of the first acts of “Dreams of Russia,” fake snow fell from the rafters of Fisht Olympic Stadium, turning the 40,000-seat marvel into a futuristic snow globe.

Five large snowflakes were lit up and hanging high in the air, and the plan called for the snowflakes to turn into the Olympic rings and interlock.

But when the moment came, the top right flake did not morph, leaving four interlocked rings and one highly ridiculed piece of electronic precipitation.

What has $51 billion bought Mr. Putin?

More scrutiny than any leader of a country that has been the host of an Olympics. Of course, when Adolf Hitler’s Germany had the 1936 Berlin Games, there was no television, much less hundreds of journalists armed with cheeky Twitter accounts.

Skier Todd Lodwick of the United States carries the American flag as he leads his team into the stadium during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics. Skier Todd Lodwick of the United States carries the American flag as he leads his team into the stadium during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics.
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So the snowflake didn’t turn into a ring. Did that signal that, right then and there, these Sochi Winter Games were going to be just one huge waste of Russian public funds?

Or did it simply mean the snowflake didn’t turn into a ring like it had during all of the practice runs leading up to the big occasion? The rest of the show would ultimately decide the spin.

By the end of the night, when a fireworks display soared into the coastal air to announce the beginning of these Games to the most near-sighted astronauts in space, even the staunchest critics of Mr. Putin couldn’t deny that his country’s artistic flair had shown well on the grandest stage.

Especially when one considers this was not an easy job, trying to present Russia’s complicated history to a skeptical world using music, dance, and some of the most elaborate technology assembled for one performance.

All told, this could have been so much worse than a bum snowflake.

But the show was magical and awe-inspiring, as hundreds of ballet dancers delivered their rendering of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace that then made way for an unapologetic ode to the October Revolution of 1917 and the industrial period of the Soviet Union, which included a massive hammer and sickle floating in the stadium.

The pride of this new Russian Federation was everywhere on display, never more so than when the country’s winter Olympians marched around the stadium floor to the boom, boom, boom of ground-shaking techno bass.

The natives clapped in unison as Mr. Putin looked on from his booth.

Irina Rodnina and Vladislav Tretiak light the cauldron during the ambitious and large-scale opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. Irina Rodnina and Vladislav Tretiak light the cauldron during the ambitious and large-scale opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
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Soon attention turned to a giant bear on ice skates, a giant rabbit on skis, and a giant cat on a snowboard — the three mascots of these Olympics oddly making one feel like a kid again — in the middle of the stadium.

At their best, that is what the Games can accomplish.

They can temporarily suspend the petty prejudices of adults, even in Russia, where, by law, people are not allowed to protest for the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.

Before the opening ceremony began, it was as if the organizers of the preshow entertainment were trying to send a subtle message about the true hearts of the Russian people.

They asked everyone to hug their neighbor and played Queen’s “We Are the Champions,” once sung by the band’s gay lead singer, Freddie Mercury. Next, the men of the Russian Police Choir were on stage singing Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.”

Later, as the night wrapped up with speeches from officials, IOC president Thomas Bach made it clear what he felt the Olympics should be, and one couldn’t help but sense he was talking directly to Mr. Putin as he talked of “living together without discrimination.”

Minutes later, Mr. Putin had his chance to rebut. But instead, he simply did what he was supposed to do, stating that the Sochi Games had officially begun.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. J. Brady McCollough is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.

Contact J. Brady McCollough at: bmccollough@post-gazette.com or on Twitter @BradyMcCollough.



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