Sochi Olympics kick off with Opening Ceremony

SOCHI, Russia - Russian President Vladimir Putin has declared the Winter Olympics open at a superlative-filled opening ceremony in Sochi.

Putin said Friday, "I declare the 22nd Winter Olympic Games open."

More than with most games, these Olympics are closely tied to the leader of the host nation. Putin personally pushed for the right to stage them in this Black Sea summer resort and the nearby Caucasus Mountains slopes.

He then spent $51 billion to transform Sochi into a winter sports paradise, in a project fraught with corruption, environmental abuses and fears of terrorism from nearby Chechnya and Dagestan.

Sochi was lit up with music and dance to unleash the ultimate achievement of Vladimir Putin's Russia: a Winter Olympics to showcase the best athletes on ice and snow the world has to offer.

The Sochi Olympics are Russia's chance to tell its story of post-Soviet resurrection to the world - and dispel the anger, fear and suspicion that has marred the buildup to these most expensive Olympics ever.

Just after the sun set Thursday over the Caucasus Mountains and the seashore, Russian TV star Yana Churikova shouted to the crowd: "Welcome to the center of the universe!"

Soon to come were the athletes. Some 3,000 in 98 events from 88 different countries. It will be more people and events than ever at the Winter Games.

The host country spent the warmup to Sochi's opening ceremony reaching out to visitors from the West.

The highlight was the Russian Army choir euphorically singing "Get Lucky" by Daft Punk, one of the biggest hits in the United States last year. The band Tokyo sang the Queen anthem "We Are The Champions," alternating verses between Russian and English to get the crowd going.

And as the official start to the night neared, the two emcees led the crowd in a round of that Western sports arena staple: the wave.


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